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Source: Eviction Lab (Click here to see a larger version of this chart.)

Bar Buzz: Evictions loom, cases on horizon, a judicial milestone

Welcome to Bar Buzz, our feature filling readers in on what’s going on in the legal profession.  

The lead

The U.S. Supreme Court ended the federal eviction ban on Aug. 26, allowing evictions to restart. In June 2021, Minnesota passed legislation allowing gradual dissolvement of the state moratorium within a year. Currently, landlords can legally evict tenants who have significantly breached rental contracts. They can also legally evict if the tenant refuses to apply for federal rental assistance. Those tenants who have unpaid rent because of the pandemic will be protected from eviction as well — at least through June 1, 2022 — but they also have to have a pending application with a federally funded rental assistance program.

The state received $673 million in federal aid for rental assistance. RentHelpMN is emergency rental assistance, a temporary program funded with $518 million from the federal government. While it sounds like an awful lot of money and has helped many Minnesotans, it’s a small fix that will not come close to helping everyone. Qualified applicants, however, can get up to 18 months of rent payments.

Eviction filings in Minnesota reached historic lows after the statewide moratorium was implemented in March 2020. While some people have been evicted, many cases are in a holding pattern, as applicants wait to hear back about whether their applications have been approved. There has been a flood of applications that case managers need to individually review as tenants try and stay afloat. Even if a tenant is given rental assistance, they may be out of a home if the landlord decides not to renew the lease. Landlords can decide not to renew a release despite pending applications for rental assistance, and some have chosen to do this for fear of future nonpayment.

Tenants who are evicted not only have to deal with the logistics of finding a new place to live but will also have to do so with an eviction record. In Minnesota, tenant screening companies can report evictions for up to seven years. However, landlords have the ability to directly review court files as long as the court has a record of the eviction cases. The record begins as soon as the eviction case is filed. Tenants can get the record expunged, but there are costs and if the tenant either owes the landlord money or lost at trial, the court will not likely grant it. There is not an unlimited selection of affordable housing, either. Those with eviction histories will likely be disqualified from finding other housing in their price range, which could contribute towards Minnesota’s homelessness problem.

But tenants are not the only victims. While many of the evictions are occurring in larger rental complexes (35.7% of the Twin Cities eviction filings have happened in the top 100 buildings, according to Eviction Lab), at least a quarter are happening in rental units owned by small landlords, where the nonpayment of rent has been felt even more acutely.

More Minnesotans are at risk of evictions and/or homelessness as protections have been rolled back. As the accompanying chart from the Eviction Lab (based at Princeton University) shows, those numbers are trending sharply up and evictions will go back to where they were before the pandemic.

Coming soon…

Carvin Buzzell Jr. is a restaurateur who, like many Minnesota restaurateurs, suffered when the pandemic hit. Buzzell owns Timber Valley Grille and Rum River Barn & Vineyard. His businesses were forced to shut down due to state order. Buzzell took his case first to the Ramsey County Court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals, both of which denied his bids. The Minnesota Supreme Court will hear Buzzell’s arguments, which are that he is owed just compensation for damages after Minnesota “commandeered” his restaurant, bar, and catering businesses. Neither of the previous courts agreed that the state had “commandeered” his businesses. The Minnesota Supreme Court will decide whether Minnesota commandeered Buzzell’s businesses, as “commandeering” is defined under state statute.

Cindy and Tom Redmond bought property on a strip of land separating Grays Bay and Wayzata Bay. They tore down the home and began construction on larger home on the site. Neighbors — including noteworthy neighbor Chad Greenway, former Minnesota Viking — filed a lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court. The home is just 95 feet from the water while zoning rules require properties to be at least 260 feet from the shore. The Redmonds did have permission from the city of Wayzata to build the property, but the neighbors allege that the scope of the project changed dramatically from what was originally proposed. It is possible that the home will have to be significantly changed — or even moved altogether. A hearing has been set for Jan. 5, during which the Redmonds must explain why their home need not be brought into alignment with zoning requirements.

Ka Wah Wong is a former Minnesota State University astronomy professor. He has filed suit in Blue Earth County District Court alleging that he was passed over for a tenure-track position because he speaks with an accent. Wong is from China. Wong applied for a tenure-track position in 2018 and was one of three finalists, along with two other candidates (both white). One of the other finalists was offered the position. When Wong inquired why he did not receive it, he was told that it was because he had the lowest evaluation scores on his research seminar presentation and lecture. However, when Wong obtained the evaluation forms, he noticed that he had all high ratings with the exception of his “clarity of speech.” In the lawsuit, Wong’s attorney argues that committee members knew that Wong’s accent was the reason why the “clarity of speech” mark was low. Minnesota State University, Mankato will not comment on pending litigation.

Unprecedented

On Nov. 12, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan announced that Sarah Wheelock would be appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Wheelock will be filling a vacancy left by judge Carol Hooten, who will retire on Nov. 30. This appointment is notable because it not only marks the first time that a Native American judge served on the Court of Appeals, but it is also the first time that Native Americans were represented in Minnesota’s judiciary at every level. Currently, Wheelock is legal counsel for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Prior Lake. She also served as an adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law as well as an appellate judge for the White Earth Band of Chippewa Court of Appeals. In the announcement, Flanagan said, “Sarah Wheelock is a brilliant legal mind with a deep understanding of the laws of the land.”

Law around town

The science Museum of Minnesota has had an exhibit called “Race: Are We So Different?” That exhibit includes an interactive experience called “Busted!” Audiences go through a digital experience during which they see the experience of a young Black man as he navigates the criminal justice system. The experience highlights how disparities in the criminal justice system acutely harm Minnesota youth of color. This exhibit was based on local and national data and was the product of collaboration among many folks, including Minnesota lawyers Andrew Gordon (The Legal Rights Center), Kelly Mitchell (Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice), Luis Rangel Morales (Neighborhood Justice Center), and Mary Moriarty (Hennepin County public defender).

Minnesota lawyers in the news

Alexandra Klass, law professor and chair of the Environmental and Energy Law concentration at University of Minnesota Law School, was consulted for her knowledge about America’s aging power grid for an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” Look for Professor Klass’ name in the credits!

Law School Excellence

St. Thomas’ Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic, led by Professor Thomas Berg, filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Ramirez v. Collier. Ramirez was sentenced to death and wishes his Baptist pastor would “lay on hands” and pray as he is put to death. The request has been denied. In the brief, the clinic argues that the government has not shown that prohibiting this “spiritual comfort” is the least restrictive way of furthering a compelling government interest under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The Act prohibits “substantial burdens” on the rights of prisoners, including those on death row.

Minnesota Law School Clemency Project is working to get clemency for client Kelli Caron from the Biden administration. Last year, Caron received a commuted sentence from the Minnesota Board of Pardons, the first person to do so in nearly three decades. However, she is imprisoned in Alabama for an unrelated federal drug charge for her role in a meth conspiracy case. She was sentenced to 14 years and has spent 6½ years in prison, which may be twice the amount of time she would have been ordered to serve if sentenced in 2021. Caron, 38, is hoping for release so that she can have biological children. University of Minnesota law professor JaneAnne Murray filed Caron’s petition, and Ingrid Hofeldt, a third-year law student, drafted the petition under Murray’s supervision. Caron’s application is one of 17,000 clemency applications that the federal government needs to review.

Mitchell Hamline’s Institute to Transform Child Protection celebrated legislative victories that will keep more families together. Specifically, the institute worked on two proposals that eventually became law in Minnesota. One was making sure all parents facing parental termination or separation from their children were guaranteed attorney representation. Prior to this, Minnesota was one of just seven states without this guarantee, putting biological parents at a significant disadvantage during proceedings. Additionally, the Institute advocated to eliminate several unnecessary criminal barriers to foster care licensing. Becoming a foster parent in Minnesota requires a license, so relatives who are interested and becoming foster parents for relative children need to go through a licensing process. The institute hopes that eliminating some of these barriers will keep more families together.

We mourn

Andrew Gildea, 64, died suddenly on Nov. 5. Gildea was married to Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea for 37 years. He received his Juris Doctorate from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1989. After working with the firm Howrey & Simon in D.C., Gildea moved to Minnesota with his wife. Gildea worked on a variety of political campaigns and served in multiple positions at the state Legislature. Notably, he worked for Sheriff Rich Stanek in Hennepin County. He was presented many accolades for his service, including Legislative Staff Person of the Year and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Award of Merit.

Mark Halverson, 70, died in a motorcycle crash on Nov. 6. Halverson was a 1980 graduate of Mitchell Hamline School of Law. Halverson was a well-known bankruptcy lawyer with a practice in southern Minnesota. He was a certified bankruptcy specialist, one of the few in the state. Outside of his legal practice, Halverson was a community activist, serving his community for a variety of causes, including environmental ones. Halverson also was a blues radio host on KMSU Radio, a role he had held since the 1970s.

David Weissbrodt, 77, died Nov. 11. Weissbrodt was a renowned international human rights scholar. He served on the faculty at Minnesota Law for more than 40 years, establishing the Human Rights Center. A giant in the area of human rights law, Weissbrodt served as member of the U.N. Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. Weissbrodt was also appointed the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights of noncitizens. Additionally, Weissbrodt was a beloved professor and adviser to decades of law students.

Quotes

“With lack of knowledge about how government works comes diminished trust in the justice system.”

—U.S. District Court Chief Judge John R. Tunheim, Nov. 16, 2021

 

“Black folks are overpoliced and under-protected at the same time.”

—Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, November 17, 2021

 

“We cannot ignore the fundamental fact in this case: Eric Dean is dead.”

Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Paul C. Thissen, Nov. 10, 2021

 

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