This week’s Sounding Board (left to right): John Lesch, Warren Limmer, Pete Orput, Brian Johnson, Corey Day
This week’s topics: Doctored documents; remote court hearings; space cowboys
Welcome to Session/Law Sound-off, the weekly current events quiz where we approach smart folks from across the political spectrum and they tell us what’s on their minds. Their views are entirely their own.
Query 1: There were many calls for Rep. John Thompson to resign after old reports of domestic abuse allegations surfaced. But we want to focus on one particular issue related to this episode: What did you make of lawyer Jordan Kushner’s claim that police reports were inauthentic and possibly doctored to harm Thompson?
John Lesch, attorney, former DFL House Judiciary chair: I thought to make an allegation like that, it’s always helpful to have the presentation of evidence right there. The allegation sinks in light of no follow-up.
Warren Limmer, GOP Senate Judiciary/Public Safety chair: I basically would say, first, that’s a serious charge. And in the interest of protecting his reputation, the defense attorney should be able to prove it without question or doubt.
Pete Orput, Washington County Attorney: I think it was a ridiculous defense. I equate it to [attorney] Eric Nelson’s defense in the Derek Chauvin case that perhaps the exhaust from the squad car killed George Floyd.
Brian Johnson, GOP House member, former law enforcement officer: To me, that was pretty disgusting for him to say. These are documented records. They are law enforcement records. They do not doctor them. If people actually doctored those reports, they would be losing their jobs.
Corey Day, public affairs consultant, former DFL executive director: I had read that. It’s somewhat hard to believe that multiple jurisdictions came together to doctor past reports of situations that Thompson was in, with domestic issues and whatnot. I don’t put anything above certain scenarios when it comes to officers misbehaving. We’ve obviously seen that in the past. But in this situation, I do believe that these are old, accurate reports. It’s hard to believe they have been doctored at all, or changed in any form or fashion, to hurt Representative Thompson.
Query 2: Some judges expressed concern at July 15’s Judicial Council meeting about keeping remote courtroom technologies in place post-pandemic. Among the concerns: Remote hearings take longer, are more stressful and can make it hard to know if witnesses are being coached. But surveys show the public likes them. What’s your take? Should some court hearings remain remote?
Lesch: Yeah, they’re going to have to. I think it’s an inevitability. The concerns raised by detractors are legitimate, absolutely. I’d want to know if a witness is being coached offline or in the wings. But this is the inevitability of technology. This is the way everything is moving. I don’t know how you get the shit back in the horse.
Limmer: I believe that in the interest of public awareness and transparency, the more eyes on the Judicial Branch the better.
Orput: When the pandemic first hit and we went to full-on remote hearings, I was frustrated. But in the last 15 months, I’ve come to appreciate that they can work for uncontested hearings. I don’t see a problem with them. I think it’s particularly helpful for the private defense bar, which has to travel all over the state, typically for a Rule 5 hearing that takes two minutes but might take hours to get to. A lot of the hearings are perfunctory. I’m not sure they couldn’t continue to do them remotely.
Johnson: Some of the procedurals, possibly. But when it actually comes to the trials themselves, they need to be in-person. Not all procedurals should be remote, either—some need to be in-person. But there are some things that they surely could look at, especially at the beginning phases of a case. Some of those cases that involve mental health transport issues, or bail hearings. Or if a defendant is getting picked up in Roseau and you have to go down to Rochester for court, that’s a long drive. So some of that stuff could be done remotely. When it comes to orders for protection and that stuff, some of those need to be in person.
Some of this can be a judgment call. It’s not set in stone. And I think the judge should have the option to decide how they want to do some of these hearings.
Day: I understand that the courts’ concern when it comes to setting these deals up and the logistics of doing it. But I also understand where the public is coming from on this. I would hope in the future that, somewhat as we see with folks returning to work, that there’s a hybrid, where certain cases—especially kind of low-level cases—are going to be done remotely. It may be that more serious cases need to be done in person. But I think this is kind of the way that Corporate America is adjusting to people coming back to work and I think the courts are going to have to adjust, too, in how they handle their business.
Query 3: Two rich guys, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, recently went on the ultimate yacht cruise—blasting off into outer space in their own spaceships. How excited were you for them?
Lesch: [Chuckles.] Minimally. It’s great when rich guys can pay for their own space junket. I would add, though, that I like the fact that private equity is going into space exploration. I think that’s good, because government is not funding it anymore. So I would say that I am excited for the future of planet Earth, because money is actually being invested in space exploration from the private sector. That’s a good thing.
Limmer: [Yawns.] Vanity trips of billionaires are not too interesting to me.
Orput: I was not excited at all. I thought it was a gross vanity statement they both made, with the wealth that they have exploited from others.
Johnson: It didn’t faze me a bit. Would I mind going up there and taking a good, deep look at God’s creation? It would be fun. But it’s something I don’t think I’ll ever do.
Day: The only thing that has some element of excitement for me is that we are actually getting to that point where space travel can become more of a leisurely thing. Even though, obviously, it would never be anything that just your average American can do—plop down a few million and go to space. But it’s exciting that our technology is getting that point where space travel is no different than me jumping on a flight from MSP to Los Angeles. We’re looking at space travel in a different way. More folks are still looking towards the stars. But the idea that two of the wealthiest men in the world were able to become space cowboys because they can, I don’t really give too much thought to it.