Spring 2017 Legal Education Program
How do you know where to look for legal information?
Have to think which branch of government would deal with the question - also if it is federal, state, or local.
- Statutory law
- Administrative law, i.e., regulations - things related to science and technology tend to go here.
- Criminal pleadings
- Court filings
- Brief - when each lawyer makes an argument
- Filings - documents given to the court - if patron says they want to file in court, go to court forms
Law libraries in the metro area:
- County law libraries
- Mitchell Hamline (merger of Hamline University Law and William Mitchell)
Mncourts.gov - Ashlie Kennedy
The Minnesota Judicial Branch has Self Help Centers and a plethora of resources on their web site to assist self-represented litigants or SRLs (SRL is used instead of “pro se” to be clearer to laypeople). Self Help Centers focus mostly on civil law and do not offer legal advice or tell patrons what to do. They can walk them through the process and give them options. Every courthouse has a workstation with a computer, printer, Internet, and phone with access to staff - Only Ramsey and Hennepin have walk-in centers (Ramsey is Family Law only). Workstations have co-browsing, in which staff take over computer and get patrons where they need to go. It is not income-based, anyone can use it.
Ramsey County Family Court Self-Help Service Center (Second District)
Juvenile and Family Justice Center
25 West 7th Street
St. Paul, MN 55102
The Ramsey County Family Court Self-Help Service Center is located on the first floor of the Juvenile and Family Justice Center. Office hours are Monday through Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Staff can also be emailed forms and will give feedback as to what goes where - not advice. Contact form asks for name, email, county, subject (required), phone (not required). Reply time is within 3-4 business days
Any contact ends with and offer to give referrals for legal advice. Free legal help requires a low income and varies by agency - usually 300% of poverty level, but best to call first.
MN Legal Advice offers free online legal advice for those who make less than $24,120.00 annually. If the patron doesn’t fit the guidelines, then they refer them to state and county bar associations - no specific names. If patron does not want to pay for full legal representation, some lawyers will offer limited-scope or unbundled services, but lawyers don't always like to do it, because then they don't know everything that's going on.
Each has a consistent format with tabs, including forms and resources when applicable. Some have videos from the Minnesota Judicial Branch YouTube channel. The tabs can be tricky to navigate on mobile. Look under the name of the language for world language resources.
Before looking for a form, it's best to start at Help Topics so you know what form you need - otherwise, you just have a list of forms. Over 500 forms are available.
Fillable "smart" forms with fields that you can fill out online are in the works. They hope to have three pilot Guide and File forms by 6/1/2017 from the vendor Tyler Technologies. It will make things easier by filling in your name in all the locations on the form and asking guiding questions like TurboTax and other e-filing resources. The old I Can Divorce interactive form has been discontinued.
Currently, forms are only in .pdf & Word formats- Word can be edited, but it is not ideal.
Have to get to the Help Topics Homepage first - click on blue square under "contact the Self-help center" - a user ID & password pops up, they give it to staff so they can connect - should work on any computer - is an executable file, so may not work at the library
Minnesota Judicial Branch Self Help Centers do not help with:
- Criminal cases, except for criminal expungement, which is actually civil. Criminal plaintiffs will have a public defender.
- Forfeiture - when plaintiff’s property is seized in a criminal case - usually drug- or alcohol-related.
- Court of Appeal cases- refer to State Law Library.
- Out of state cases.
- Payment of tickets or citations -refer to Court Payment Center.
- Help with or issues with public assistance.
Probate & Estate Planning, Legal Referrals - Liz Reppe
Probate is the process after a person’s death of settling their estate.
Estate planning - pre-death
Probate - post death
Patrons want to know how to avoid the trouble of probate - having a will alone is not sufficient.
Ways to avoid probate:
- Joint accounts - assets go to the other person on the account - they have all rights to account.
- Transfer on death account - money goes straight to person.
- Joint ownership of property - assets go to the other owner on death.
- Putting assets into a trust.
- Transfer on death deeds - property goes to the other person on death - make sure they want it - what if there's a mortgage?
- Life estates - you own it until you die, then someone else owns it.
- Power of attorney - someone else can access bank accounts, sign contracts, etc. before you die. Ends when you die.
- Health care directive - others can make healthcare decisions when you can't.
Who to give Health Care Directive/Power of Attorney to - doctor, bank, person who you are giving authority, safe deposit box. It is recommended to get a Revocation of Power of Attorney form in case you change your mind
Resources for Probate and Estate Planning:
Minnesota State Law Library - Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning
LawHelpMN has interactive forms for Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive.
Commerce Department Uniform Conveyancing Forms - Power of Attorney, Trusts, Deeds (e.g. Quit Claim Deed). - Commerce web site is terrible, so search “uniform conveyancing forms mn” in Google.
Minnesota Attorney General - Probate and Planning
If you want to own property with another person using a Quit Claim Deed, you have to convey to yourself in addition to someone else.
Joint tenants - one owns after other dies.
Tenants in common - each owns half and half goes to heirs upon death.
Legal Aid doesn't do estate planning, but there are other places to go for assistance:
Volunteers of America has reduced fees on estate planning
Wills for Heroes -free wills for 1st responders
MN Legal Advice Online can also give advice on estate planning - can take a few weeks.
Wills are county-specific - using a form from another county not ideal, but better than making one from scratch. Nolo legal self-help books are better for federal issues like bankruptcy and starting a new business.
It is strongly recommended that a lawyer always review quit claim deeds. Make sure your will covers Minnesota requirements - can have an attorney look at it later.
Legal referrals by county- links are updated at least once a year.
Finding a Will:
Wills should be deposited in county where the deceased lived. If you can't find a will, check the court to see if they deposited it. You need a form to get access to safety deposit box if you think the will is there. If deceased left less than $5,000 and no real estate you can fill out affidavit for collection of personal property. Affidavit of Identity & Survivorship is a form to get deceased spouse off joint car title, mortgage, etc.
If you do a serious formal probate, won't find all the forms online for free. County & state law libraries have a book with forms on a disc. Miller-Davis also sells forms. The LegalZoom site for legal help is not recommended for wills.
Basics of Landlord/Tenant Law - Laura Busian - Volunteer Lawyers Network
Minnesota Rules suggest Pro Bono hours (not mandatory) - Volunteer Lawyers network helps lawyers do them. They have community clinics for landlord/tenant issues in Minneapolis.
The landlord/tenant relationship is dictated by lease agreement, but agreement has to follow laws. You can't waive right to habitable place in a lease, e.g., “landlord will make no repairs”. It is fine to ask for things like snow removal to be done by tenant - must be prominent in lease- must get something in return, e.g., rent reduction.
MN Statutes offer Tenant Remedies Action for group of tenants with the same landlord. Individuals can file a Rent Escrow Action to get repairs done. A rent abatement action - return of rent for having to live in uninhabitable place- usually tied into eviction or lawsuit for unpaid action - can be filed in Conciliation or District Court. Tenants may have to file a complaint with housing, health, energy or fire inspector if relevant laws are not being followed. Licensing of landlords is done on the city level. Some tenants fear repercussions, e.g. being reported to ICE if undocumented. . Some clients can't get a new place without the security deposit.
The security deposit has to be returned in 21 days by landlord - either whole deposit or itemized explanation as to why withheld - many landlords fail to do so. The tenant can make claim for return of deposit in Conciliation Court. Money matters are dealt with in Conciliation Court, other things in Housing Court (repairs, evictions).
Evictions go on the tenant's record as soon as filed, before it is decided - it has to be expunged later. The landlord has to file an eviction action - lockout without eviction is not legal. Average rents in MN are more than $1000/month, with less than 2.5% occupancy rates. This means that landlords have a lot of power if they decide to go bad
The most common reason for eviction is nonpayment of rent. Other reasons are pets, noise and refusal to leave after notice to vacate. Minnesota is a "Pay & Stay" state - tenant can pay unpaid rent and stay after eviction, landlord must accept if no other issues
Only law enforcement can physically evict - technically within 24 hours, but emergencies come first. Although it is illegal to evict tenants for defending their rights, some landlords will still file an action, forcing tenants to go to court and assert their claim of uninhabitability. If roommate or significant other is the problem, tenant can ask the landlord could evict both, then do a new lease with tenant. Landlords can give tenants a notice to vacate if the less is month-to-month - must give tenants 30 days’ notice.
Tenants who don't have money to file forms can get fees waived if eligible.
Homeowners have a right to eject a family member without going through a formal eviction process.
Criminal Expungement - Shawn Betts
Criminal expungement is sealing records, not destroying records. Betts advises clients they can legally say they have not been convicted in a job interview if it has been expunged. They remain accessible to law enforcement. Actual pardons are very rare -have to be filed with Governor's office.
Expungement likely if:
1) Client found not guilty
2) Client went to diversion program - community service, fine, probation
3) There was a stay of adjudication - client pled guilty, but judge dismisses after probation - still on background checks.
Must file a petition in court: $322 or so filing fee if it was decided against them. Sometimes this can be done administratively by Prosecutor's office - doesn't hurt to file a request.
Some felonies are eligible - Mostly property or drugs.
Expungement not allowed for:
- Sex offenses
- High-end drugs
- Aggravated robbery
Benefit for person has to outweigh damage to state: if they have gone on to improve themselves, expungements are usually granted. Arrest records can be returned without expungement.
Have to send to all state agencies with records of arrest, or it will still turn up in background checks - Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Health & Human Services, etc. Gun rights and voting rights are not necessarily restored by expungement - different forms and departments. Some organizations have reduced rates for expungement. Patrons usually need legal help with the Affidavit for Service so that they cover every agency.
Non-government companies like Mugshots.com are not affected by expungement, but you can send them proof of expungement and they are supposed to take it down.
Misdemeanor: Probation period plus 2 years
Gross Misdemeanor: Probation period plus 4 years
Felony: Probation period plus 5 years
(Mostly property felonies)
DUI’s, assaults, sex offenses, etc.: Have a period of ten years during which an enhanced charge can be filed if the offender reoffends. Highly unlikely that expungement will be allowed during that time period.
The person who wishes to have something expunged must file their petition, wait at least 60 days, the petition is heard. If the petition is granted, the prosecutors, BCA, etc., have at least 60 days to file an appeal.
For the petition to be granted, the benefit to the person must outweigh the burden to the state.
There are 12 factors which are considered:
- the nature and severity of the underlying crime, the record of which would be sealed
- the risk, if any, the petitioner poses to individuals or society
- the length of time since the crime occurred
- the steps taken by the petitioner toward rehabilitation following the crime
- aggravating or mitigating factors relating to the underlying crime, including the petitioner's level of participation and context and circumstances of the underlying crime
- the reasons for the expungement, including the petitioner's attempts to obtain employment, housing, or other necessities
- the petitioner's criminal record;
- the petitioner's record of employment and community involvement;
- the recommendations of interested law enforcement, prosecutorial, and corrections officials
- the recommendations of victims or whether victims of the underlying crime were minors;
- the amount, if any, of restitution outstanding, past efforts made by the petitioner toward payment, and the measures in place to help ensure completion of restitution payment after expungement of the record if granted
- other factors deemed relevant by the court.
If you are arrested without charge, you can get your records back with just a letter to the appropriate agency.
Forms for everyone!
Legal forms are available online, but scattered among many sites. To remember the top four places to check for forms and legal resources, think CALL - Courts, Attorney General, LawHelpMN, Law libraries.
Minnesota Bar Association - rental agreement
State Law Library - service animals
LawHelpMN - Delegation of Parental Authority
Volunteer Lawyers Network - Spanish language resources
Minnesota Courts - court cases (some details may be omitted for privacy).
--Susan H. and Andrea H., GLCL