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For the first time in its history, Minnesota’s judiciary has its own fair booth as summer came to a close. We don’t know the name of the young judge who donned a black robe at the booth. (File photo: Kevin Featherly)
For the first time in its history, Minnesota’s judiciary has its own fair booth as summer came to a close. We don’t know the name of the young judge who donned a black robe at the booth. (File photo: Kevin Featherly)

A look back at 2018 in the law

January

• Ramsey County District Court Judge Tony Atwal is arrested for DUI, his second. He pleads guilty the next day, but loses his bid for re-election in November.

• The Supreme Court hears a lawsuit by State Auditor Rebecca Otto alleging that a 2015 law granting privatization audit provisions is unconstitutional. The court upholds the law after more than $300,000 was spent on the lawsuit.  U.S. Senator Al Franken resigns and Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith is appointed to fill his seat. Senate President Michelle Fischbach declines to assume the duties of lieutenant governor, resulting in a lawsuit that ultimately failed but cost $147,000 in legal fees. Fischbach resigned after the 2017 legislative session ended and ran for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Tim Pawlenty. They lost in the primary.

• A state Commission on Juvenile Sentencing for Heinous Crimes Report was issued, in response to Miller v. Alabama, where the U.S. Supreme Court said that life sentences without parole for juveniles violates the 8th Amendment in most cases. The commission ultimately identified two options for the Legislature to bring the Heinous Crimes Act into conformity with the United States Constitution but the Legislature takes no action. The Minnesota court declines to apply Miller to Brian Flowers, who had been sentenced to two consecutive life terms for killing two people.

February

The U.S. Senate confirmed Judge David Stras to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February. In this photo, Stras is sworn in for his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

The U.S. Senate confirmed Judge David Stras to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February. In this photo, Stras is sworn in for his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

• The U.S. Senate confirms Judge David Stras to the 8th Circuit. Gov. Mark Dayton later appoints Justice Paul Thissen to Stras’s former seat on the Supreme Court. Thissen reveals that he prefers the Rolling Stones to the Beatles.

March

• Judge Ann Montgomery approves settlement of a housing discrimination suit against the owners of the Crossroads at Penn, now known as Concierge Apartments, for $650,000 and equitable relief. The settlement is thought to be the largest of its kind in the nation.

• The judicial branch issues its 2017 report that says that it spent 2017 “re-engineering” the way its 10 district courthouses work, consolidating and streamlining some tasks while aiming to improve service to the public.

• The court hears proposed changes to Rule 10 of the General Rules of Practice for District Courts requiring the courts to recognize and enforce an order of judgment of a tribal court unless a party opposing enforcement makes a case against it. The amendment becomes effective September 1.

April

• Reports say the legal bills over the separation of powers fight between the governor and the Legislature are about $767,000.  This was the dispute over Dayton’s line-item veto of funding for the legislative bodies. It went to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which did not rule because it was a “political question.”

May

• The Minnesota House approves a bill to manage $725 million in damages paid to the state from a suit against 3M over contaminated drinking water.

Judge Diana Murphy, photographed in 2015, died May 16 at 84. She was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the United States District Court. She was elevated to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1980 and took senior status in 2016. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

Judge Diana Murphy, photographed in 2015, died May 16 at 84. She was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the United States District Court. She was elevated to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1980 and took senior status in 2016. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

• 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diana Murphy dies on May 16 at the age of 84.

• For the first time, the CLE board revokes credits granted to a seminar on transgender identity in response to complaints that it was discriminatory and transphobic. The board said the contents of the seminar did not match the application for CLE credit.

June

• The race for the attorney general’s office begins to heat up and stays that way until November, when Keith Ellison defeats Doug Wardlow. Wardlow came under fire for his statements that he would “purge” the office based on political affiliation.

• Erica MacDonald becomes the new U.S. attorney, replacing Andy Luger who was fired by President Donald Trump.

July

• The federal judiciary announces reform efforts spurred by the resignation of Judge Alex Kozinski who was accused of harassing and abusive behavior toward his staff. Later in the year the branch appoints a judicial integrity officer.

• The Minnesota Supreme Court reverses the Court of Appeals and says desegregation is justiciable in Cruz-Guzman et al. v. State of Minnesota. An adequate education is a fundamental right guaranteed by the state constitution and a segregated school system is not adequate, said the court in a 4-2 opinion drafted by Justice Natalie Hudson. Justice G. Barry Anderson dissented, joined by Chief Justice Lorie Gildea. Significantly, the case is decided under the Minnesota Constitution’s Education, Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

August

• Four Minnesota Dakota Indian tribes join a national lawsuit against opioid distributors and manufacturers. They accuse the industry of acting as a coordinated cartel that peddled both narcotics and lies while netting billions in profits. A wave of addiction, disruption and death has resulted, the suits allege.

Minnesota’s attorney general candidates, DFLer Keith Ellison and Republican Doug Wardlow, squared off in a contentious debate Oct. 21, each leveling charges of extremism at the other. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Minnesota’s attorney general candidates, DFLer Keith Ellison and Republican Doug Wardlow, squared off in a contentious debate Oct. 21, each leveling charges of extremism at the other. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

• Paul Hansmeier, possibly Minnesota’s biggest and best lawyer when it comes to financial criminal behavior, pleads guilty to two counts of wire fraud and money laundering. He conducted a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme to obtain payments from extortion victims to settle sham copyright infringement lawsuits. The plea deal also covered any of Hansmeier’s alleged crimes in bankruptcy court.

• The Minnesota Supreme Court rules that the “Birchfield rule” enunciated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016,  that it is not necessarily a crime for a driver to refuse a warrantless blood or urine test for controlled substances, should be retroactively applied. The decision means test refusals back to 1998 must be vacated and the statute of limitations will have run on many of them.

September

• For the first time, the judicial branch has a booth at the state fair.

• Judge Eric Tostrud and Nancy Brasel, and Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Cowan Wright, are sworn in to the U.S. District Court.

October

• Six Minnesota tribes will receive grants from the Department of Justice totaling more than $8.6 million to improve public safety, serve victims of crime, combat violence against women, and support youth programs. The Department of Justice also awards $ 1,370,418 to the Minneapolis Public School District, Hennepin County, and to the City of Duluth to support school safety efforts. The grants are authorized by the STOP School Violence Act, which are intended to improve school security by helping students and teachers reduce exposure to risks, prevent acts of violence, and quickly recognize and respond to violent attacks.

• Chief Justice John Roberts delivers the Stein Lecture at the University of Minnesota shortly after the confirmation hearings on Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Showing a light touch, he says that while he wanted to briefly address the tumultuous events of the previous two weeks, he “will not criticize the political branch because we do that often enough in our opinions.”

 

November

• Ramsey County District Court Judge Leonardo Castro hears defense motions against Public Record Media’s lawsuit seeking to force the disclosure of Minnesota’s bid for Amazon HQ2, which was awarded to New York City and Arlington, Virginia. Public Record Media wants the bid handed over so Minnesota’s citizenry can see what incentives were pledged to Amazon in their name.

• Keith Ellison wins the bitter race for attorney general. “This 2018 election season is a season that allows us to make a definitive, clear statement that we are all in this thing together,” Ellison tells a crowd at a DFL rally in St. Paul on election night. Democrats won state offices and gained 18 seats in the House of Representatives.  Lawyers Ryan Winkler and Melissa Hortman take the top House leadership posts. Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chutich defeats Michelle MacDonald. Atwal is voted out after a campaign in which his opponent, Paul Yang, sent mailers featuring Atwal’s mug shot from his January arrest.  Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is reelected.

• St. Paul City Council member Dai Thao is acquitted of a gross misdemeanor charge of making a ballot without lawful authorization.  He says the case illustrates that there are not sufficient translators available at polling places.

• Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announces the More Representation Minneapolis initiative to provide pro bono legal representation in eviction cases. Volunteer Lawyers Network and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid anchor the effort.  At last count, 17 law firms had signed on.

• The Minnesota Supreme Court refuses to amend the rules of evidence to alter common-scheme-or-plan evidence, except for requiring a more specific notice from the prosecutor about the other-crimes evidence. It also declined to amend the state’s Frye-Mack standard for the admission of expert evidence.

• Governor Mark Dayton is hospitalized at Mayo for a month.

• Judge Jeanne Cochran is appointed to the Court of Appeals.

December

• The House of Representatives revamps its committee structure to form a House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance & Policy Division, a Judiciary Finance & Civil Law Division and a Public Safety/ Criminal Justice Reform Finance & Policy subcommittee.

• Taxpayers will pay nearly $147,000 for Michelle Fischbach’s legal fees in the lawsuit aimed to unseat her from the Senate.

• Judge Randall J. Slieter is appointed to the Court of Appeals.

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