Checking in with the Minnesota Supreme Court

Energy and time. These are probably the two things many of us hope for the most. We are so taxed on both, so when someone shares their time or energy or both, it’s inspiring. Recently, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Natalie Hudson came and shared both with the RCBA Board to update us on some of the main focal points of the Court in the coming year. 

The Court faces a significant change this year with Justice Lillehaug resigning in July 2020. When you are one of seven people, according to Justice Hudson, you get to know one another quite well. She commented that they are a tight knit group and Justice Lillehaug’s presence will truly be missed amongst his peers. Although Justice Hudson stated that approximately 75% of their cases are decided unanimously amongst the group, she did mention that the justices can, and do, engage in some 
rigorous discussions. She, along with many of us on the Board, was openly surprised about the level of interest in the St. Paul garbage situation, exclaiming, “Who knew?”

Another visible change to the Court has to do with security. After acquiring more than ten million dollars in funding for security upgrades at the capitol and judicial center, there will soon be metal detectors installed amongst other security measures at these facilities.                 

The Supreme Court, or “court of last resort” as it is sometimes referred to, reviews approximately 700 cases a year. They accept review of about 10% of cases from the Minnesota Court of Appeals in addition to resolving appeals from other Appellate Courts, Lawyer’s Board petitions, etc. In addition to their responsibility to write the law, each justice serves as a judicial district liaison and on various committees too numerous to name. The Court recently secured an extra judicial seat in the Seventh District to increase efficiency there, allocated six million dollars to the Public 
Defender’s Office in an effort to improve access to justice, an additional two million dollars to aid in psychological examinations, and an additional six hundred thousand dollars in funding for the treatment courts throughout the state. They are a busy group to be sure, but they also have certain policy initiatives that are top of mind.

First, the attorney well-being initiative that was spurred by the 2017 ABA Report A Call to Action. The Court’s active involvement in bringing attention to this initiative through continuing education and outreach is working. The increase of referrals to Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (“LCL”) has driven the Court to fund two additional positions to support this need at LCL.  Justice Hudson was also pleased to note that the University of Minnesota law school has taken the Court’s lead in launching their own program to support students on the path to lawyer well-being called “Let’s Talk.”  

The second initiative before the Court deals with the legal paraprofessional pilot project. This project would have paralegals, under attorney supervision, assist lower income individuals with the crushing need in areas of housing, debtor/creditor, and 
family law.  This initiative and corresponding task force is focused on improving access to justice and fulfilling a need not presently being addressed. More to come on this initiative this year.     

Finally, Justice Hudson talked about the Court’s responsibility to take cases because they want to speak on a subject, not always because there was an error. They focus on cases of statewide importance or constitutional issues, and cases that could clarify the law in order to bring the state together.  

And, after all these interesting and admirable subjects were generously discussed, and the presentation was over, I received an email from Justice Hudson, saying that she enjoyed her visit with the RCBA board. Talk about time and energy. I’m inspired to do more. I hope you are, too.