Five by 8 – 8/6/10: When a system doesn’t work

1) There are too many law schools in America turning out too many bad lawyers. Of the many head-shaking revelations in the aftermath of Koua Fong Lee’s release from prison yesterday, that one doesn’t seem to be getting the attention it deserves. Suppose the lawyer, whose closing arguments before the jury a few years ago basically said her client’s testimony was wrong (what law school taught that technique?), had been a doctor. What punishment would await? Lee’s testimony wasn’t wrong, apparently. His story — that his car killed three people in St. Paul in 2006 because the Toyota’s accelerator got stuck — never changed. But he got stuck with a bad lawyer for counsel, and the misfortune to run up against a county attorney who opposed a new trial.

Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner decided — after the judge ordered a new trial — that she wouldn’t try him again, hours after her office offered him a deal that required him to admit to the charges.

“I believe the system worked,” Gaertner told reporters afterward, a curious statement given the two years that Mr. Lee lost in his life. In her statement, Gaertner kept saying the judge found the evidence that cleared Mr. Lee “compelling.” She never said that she did, too.

Speaking on KFAN yesterday, local attorney/commentator Ron Rosenbaum asked a good question: What changed between the time Gaertner offered the deal, and the time she decided she apparently didn’t have the evidence to have another trial?

“This is a woman who, granted is a tough prosecutor, but there is a time to be tough and a time not to be tough. No one I know can understand why Susan Gaertner didn’t drop this case, or — instead of dropping it — they could’ve agreed simply to having a new trial. Listen, this is pretty telling when the Ramsey County Attorney goes through a whole hearing … and then when the judge comes back — and everybody knew this was going to be the decision — and says ‘by the way, we’re not going to have a new trial’, what changed?” he asked.

He wasn’t alone in the thought. “I was surprised that Gaertner, chose to oppose the motion for a new trial,” Mark Cohen wrote on the Minn Lawyer blog. “This ruling, coming at the tail end of her time as county attorney, can’t help but having something of a tarnishing effect on her legacy. It was an odd choice to go out like this.”

An apparently innocent man went to prison for two years. No system that’s designed to work has that scenario in it.

Did the system work in the Koua Fong Lee case?customer surveys

Now let’s get back to that bad-doctor thing. In Mexico, a doctor is being investigated for negligence after he pronounced a newborn baby dead. The parents later heard a strange noise coming from inside her coffin. It was the baby. Alive. Bottom line: The system worked.

2) As noted here on News Cut yesterday, Target apologized to its employees for giving money to MN Forward, a PAC which favors DFL GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Its president assured the employees that the donation wasn’t about anti-gay policies, it was about being pro-business. That was yesterday. Today, The Awl reports that Target and its execs donated money to efforts to ban same-sex marriage . Back to you, Target.

3) Your personality is set for life by the first grade, a new study says. “We remain recognizably the same person,” said study author Christopher Nave, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Riverside. “This speaks to the importance of understanding personality because it does follow us wherever we go across time and contexts.”

Previous research suggested that our personalities can change. Apparently, they can’t. We are who we are for as long as we are.

But do kids’ personalities fit their name? We’ll have to wait to see how Adolf Hitler Campbell, 4, and his sisters, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation, 3, and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie, 2, turn out. A New Jersey court has approved taking them away from their parents.

4) Dear children in your 20s. Come home. And get your junk.

Even though we love you and would do most anything for you we don’t want to provide storage for your stuff anymore. We would like to use our basements and garages and attics for something else now. We have our own tacky furniture that needs to be stored and most of our closets are over flowing as we have not moved in years and have not had any place to put anything in decades.

It would be heavenly to be able to walk to the washer without tripping over something and honestly the furnace and water heater have always wanted a room of their own, they watch and wait silently as the stuff piles up around them. Last time we had a repair man here he couldn’t even find the furnace, I guess he wasn’t much of a repair man. I never saw him leave the house, he may still be down in the basement looking for the furnace, I guess we don’t know for sure, but hope not because they charge by the hour.

5) An aquarium has been forced to put a bikini top on a statue of a mermaid.


“We hadn’t noticed quite how buxom Sally was until we clocked young boys, and not so young boys, spending a lot of time ogling her in the walkthrough ocean tunnel,” an official with the aquarium in the UK said.

Bonus: Uniquely Minnesota. A neighbor calls to offer some free wheat, a short blog post that will make hundreds of people want to move to rural Minnesota.

And now the weather: The heat wave returns this weekend.Turning to sports…

And that’s the news. Good night.


The Minnesota Fringe Festival has opened, the Loring Park Art festival is this weekend, the Minnesota State Fair is coming up. What’s your favorite cultural event of the summer?


Why, yes. There will be an MPR News Cut Quiz available later today.

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: An Army report released last week faults military leadership for not attending to soldiers’ mental health problems, contributing to record-high suicide levels. We’ll talk about the report and what the military is doing, and not doing, to help suffering soldiers and prevent suicides in the future.

Second hour: Whether you’re just out of college and on your own, or recently divorced or widowed, financial planning can be a challenge. Ruth Hayden provides some tips on planning for a secure financial future.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon, discusses the challenges of integrating military and diplomatic efforts in wartime.

Second hour: Ayan Hirsi Ali, author of the books “Infidel” and “Nomad: From Islam to America.”

Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Cooking for geeks. Ever thought about using your dishwasher to cook food, or your toaster to roast?

Second hour: A discussion with Danica McKellar about her mission to make math matter to girls. Plus, is it now kosher to jailbreak your iPhone? And at look at the questionable chemical that might be lurking in your store receipts.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Two DFL candidates are running in the Aug. 10 primary to succeed Rep. Cy Thao, the first Hmong elected to the Minnesota House, in House District 65A. We’ll have a profile of the race.

MPR Brandt Williams has the story of a north Minneapolis church, which has developed a neighborhood garden, and is also working on putting in a neighborhood bike repair shop.

  • Aaron

    “…..a PAC which favors DFL gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.” Bob you may want to fix that.

  • Jim Shaarda

    Regarding #3, one of my ex-girlfriends had the same theory. Personalities were locked in between the ages of 5-10, according to her. I know mine was, and from meeting several people who I have known since that time of my life, but haven’t seen in decades, I think it is true.

  • Kim E

    Really good 5X8 today, Bob. I’m anxiously awaiting the quiz later today!

  • Bob Moffitt

    Perhaps Gaertner’s plan was to pardon Lee after she became governor.

    My wife has worked in some legal offices and is studying to become a paralegal. We have discussed this case off and on for the past two years. She had her doubts about Lee’s lawyer from the beginning.

    The system most certainly did NOT work, and I agree that Gaertner now leaves office under a cloud.

    The only good news is an innocent man is at home with his family again. I wish them the best..

  • Jennifer

    Regarding the Koua Fong Lee case, obviously the system did not work. But apart from his questionable lawyer, there’s one other thing about this case that few are discussing.

    Was his sentence average for this sort of situation? Because 8 years seemed rather excessive to me for a person that the law determined mixed up the brake and gas pedal with no ill intent.

    I was in an accident in 2004 which killed one person and sent myself and one other (a child) to the ER. The conclusion was similiar to the initial one in the Lee case; the driver who’d caused the accident had mixed up the clutch and brake pedals. (No alcohol, drugs, or road rage involved.) Though she was charged in the state of MN, she cut a plea deal and did not serve a single day in jail. It was pretty much just probation and community service. So on what grounds did Lee end up with 8 years for allegedly making the same mistake? On what grounds was it so drastically different? That is the question that is still haunting me in this case. Regardless, I am glad that he is now out and back with his family.

  • Jennifer

    The whole Target situation is baffling to me. Not only because I think it’s ridiculous to claim that you do not have a political agenda when you are funding political ads. But because there’s this very odd idea in the United States where we assume that not only do the corporations we frequent have some sort of human moral code, but that since we like their store, it must be the same morals we value. It leads us to assume that the businesses we like will act in our best interest. We need to wake up and realize that if our best interest interferes with their personal interest or bottom line, the bottom line will pretty much always win.

  • Heather

    Oh, Target. I just shared the Awl link on FB.

  • Heather

    Jennifer, you have an interesting point, but I’m not sure it’s spot-on. Personally, I don’t really expect a company to have a human moral code unless they claim to as part of their brand (like Ben & Jerry’s, or Lush). However, I *will* admit to assuming some level of neutrality.

    Generally, it’s not a good idea to discuss politics or religion at work, right? By extension, it seems to me that — at least in terms of appealing to the broadest market possible — companies would be smart to stay neutral on such matters. When they don’t, I react according to my own beliefs.

    I had no problem giving up a local consignment shop when they used unsold clothes to support an anti-choice fundraiser, and I did not feel badly for them when I saw they’d closed (whether it was related or not). I’m struggling a bit with Target because I buy a lot of basics there, and I know good people who work there, but WOW do they look like a bunch of [real jerks] at the top right now.

  • tired

    Thanks for the baseball highlight, I could watch that all day.

    The fans must have been stunned, in the crowd shot after the catch they were SITTING in their seats applauding.