Here is a situation that all experienced trial lawyers get to enjoy one time or another, though, fortunately, not all that often: a trial court gets a basic legal ruling completely wrong forcing a litigant to go through civil discovery, followed by a trial, followed by an adverse jury verdict, followed by reversal of the basis legal proposition that the defendant raised before the trial court at every possible opportunity.
In Olmstead County, Ray Barta agreed to let Gary Carlson come onto Barta’s property to chop down a bunch of trees, and sell the lumber. The two entered into a contract in which Carlson agreed not to sue Barta for any claims “arising out of the performance” of the contract. Then, in “performing the contract,” driving his 28,000 lb. harvester over Barta’s property, Carlson unwittingly drove onto a frozen pond and his harvester broke through.
Minnesota Litigator has profiled a bunch of Minnesota civil litigators because there are many highly talented and exceptional Minnesota litigators whose practices are in narrow areas of law so their reputations are not as well-spread as their excellence deserves.
Twin Cities litigator Stephen L. Smith stands out as an advocate for many reasons but, unlike all of the other Minnesota Litigator profile subjects, his practice is also extraordinary because he has an active practice on both the criminal and the civil side.
How is your practice going these days?
I stay busy. I’m currently preparing for two trials. A criminal trial next week and federal civil trial in a discrimination case next month. Staying busy has never been the challenge. I have always had a lot of work. The challenge, at least for the civil side of my practice, lies in the fact that it is primarily a contingent practice. That means I have to resolve cases favorably, either through trial or settlement. Otherwise, my client recovers nothing, nor does my firm.
What kind of practice do you have?
I practice in three areas that I find very rewarding even though I tell people they are some of the most difficult areas of law to practice in, at least from a financial perspective. You spend lots of time and money seeking justice for clients in contingent cases you may never get in front of a jury. The hurdles are no less challenging in criminal cases, perhaps not as much financially, although there is an element of this in the equation. The bigger challenge here is that you are fighting about whether someone potentially is going to be sitting behind bars or carrying the burden of a criminal conviction, or even whether constitutional rights have been violated. The nature of the work that I do is at the heart of why I went to law school. I’m a trial lawyer that practices:
- Employment litigation, primarily on plaintiffs’ side;
- Criminal defense; and
- Civil rights. Most of these are police misconduct cases.
Update (October 27, 2014): This civil litigation, filed in August, 2012, appears to have gone disastrously for Target. As the earlier posts below set out, Target felt it was victimized by a paving pricing conspiracy but many of the defendants in the case have dropped out or have been dismissed all along the way. And within days of the supposed start of trial this past August, the lawsuit’s primary targets filed for bankruptcy. In September, another one did. And now it appears that Target sued another defendant but never bothered to tell him, leading U.S. District Court Judge Joan N. Ericksen to issue an order for Target counsel this past Friday to tell her within 7 days why she should not dismiss the action against supposed defendant Huntzenroeder.
Update (July 24, 2014) (Under the subject line: Target v. LCH Pavement Consultants, et al. Trial: Where the Rubber Hits The Road…”): Target’s voyage to recoup money in connection with its nation-wide parking lot maintenance arrangement has been a two-year bumpy ride, as set out in the string of earlier posts below. Target brought the action originally on August 3, 2012.
Now what is left of Target’s lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial on August 11, 2014. Here is the litigants’ “joint introduction to the case.”
Something tells me that the struggle that Target faces between now and a verdict will be nothing compared to the challenges it will face collecting on a judgment if it succeeds in winning one. But this is sheer uninformed speculation.
Best of luck to all of the trial teams and stay tuned, Minnesota Litigator readers!
Minnesota Litigator has followed the Thull v. Table Saw manufacturer litigation for a while now.
In fact, this lawsuit is attracting attention in far-away places for a while now.
Here are the Court’s final jury instructions.
How much do jury instructions matter? How much do they influence juror decision making? Some studies have suggested they matter little. Assuming they do matter, do these instructions nudge the fact-finder one way or the other way? We will never know for sure. Here is the verdict.
Credit the Rochester Post-Bulletin reporter Jeff Kiger for this story from Olmsted County (and thanks ELG for cluing me in!).
Dr. Franklin Cockerill got all choked up and teary about leaving Mayo Collaborative Services (“MCS”) after 30 years with Mayo and talked about retiring to help his elderly mother manage the family business in Nebraska.
The next day, Dr. Cockerill started work with Quest Diagnostics, Inc., a direct competitor of MCS. “I will be turning my attention to my family’s businesses and philanthropic efforts in my home state of Nebraska,” the doctor told his beloved MCS colleagues. Quest is headquartered in New Jersey, not Nebraska. It is not a Cockerill family business. It does not appear that Dr. Cockerill’s involvement with Quest is philanthropic.
This is a bad way to start off defending a lawsuit in which you are sued for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and theft of trade secrets. Assuming the allegations in the complaint are true, you start the case with an undeniable act of intentional dishonesty.
Query whether Dr. Cockerill and/or Quest sought legal advice as they planned the doctor’s “onboarding.” If so, did they disobey their lawyers’ advice or did they get awful advice?