Tom Ragatz gets nervous before every oral argument.
You’d think that after 101 arguments at the Minnesota Court of Appeals and 50 at the Supreme Court, he’d have earned a little relaxation. But being nervous is good, he told Bar Buzz. “It helps you focus.”
Ragatz reached that amazing number of arguments in February with State v. Yarbrough at the Court of Appeals and State v. Morrow at the Supreme Court. Yarbrough, a pretrial appeal, involved the suppression of a handgun and other evidence where District Court Judge Leonardo Castro found there was no nexus between the alleged criminal activity and the defendant’s residence, which was searched.
State v. Morrow, argued Feb. 12, is a first-degree murder case where the defendant moved to dismiss a grand jury indictment and raised other evidentiary issues.
These criminal cases are Ragatz’ joy. “I love my job. I look forward to coming to work. There aren’t many lawyers who can say that,” he told Bar Buzz.
Ragatz graduated from Harvard Law School in 1993 and clerked for Minnesota Supreme Court Justice John Simonett the next year. He then went to what was then Faegre & Benson to practice construction law, which didn’t take. He did a pro bono appeal on a criminal matter and was hooked. He did appeals at the Minnesota attorney general’s office from 1995 to 2007 and then came to Ramsey County.
“This is an extraordinary accomplishment, and Tom is an extraordinary appellate attorney. He loves what he does, and it shows,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. “He’s a fine person, and we’re lucky to have him in Ramsey County.
“What I love about Tom is that he’s also involved in helping other appellate offices,” Choi said.
And he’s involved in helping trial lawyers, as well, Choi noted. Ragatz’ signature case may turn out to be State v. Obeta, handed down in 2011. Ragatz worked closely with the trial attorney, Kaarin Long, to show that a 1982 high court decision in State v. Saldana should not preclude prosecutors from ever bringing expert testimony regarding a victim’s actions in a sexual assault case. The court held that in a criminal sexual conduct case in which the defendant argues that the sexual conduct was consensual, the District Court has discretion to admit expert-opinion evidence on the typicality of delayed reporting, lack of physical injuries, and submissive conduct by sexual-assault victims when the District Court concludes that such evidence is relevant, helpful to the jury, and has foundational reliability.
That case completely altered the landscape of criminal sexual conduct prosecutions, and was accomplished because Ragatz continually advised Long on how to build a record that could get them their desired result, Choi said.
Bar Buzz congratulates Ragatz. If there are other lawyers in Minnesota with this many arguments under their belts, we’d love to hear from you.