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Kevin Velasquez – Attorney of the Month

Dec. 08, 2017

Kevin Velasquez has extensive experience litigating a wide range of civil matters in areas such as employment law, insurance disputes, estate and trust disputes, family law, construction disputes, auto accidents and general business disputes.kevin-a-velasquez

Kevin has represented clients in Minnesota District Courts, the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the Federal District Court in Minnesota, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture and in various forms of alternative dispute resolution.

Kevin also counsels employers on a variety of employment matters, including issues involving harassment, discrimination, wrongful discharge, sick and disability leave, wage and hour compliance, unemployment insurance, noncompetes and contract disputes.

Prior to joining the firm, Kevin worked for a financial services company servicing defined contribution pension plans. This position provided valuable background knowledge of various employee benefits, tax and investment issues.

Kevin is involved in numerous professional associations including the Minnesota State Bar Association (serving as Sixth District President in 2012), the Federal Bar Association, the Minnesota Defense Lawyers Association, and the Greater Mankato Growth Young Professionals.   Kevin has volunteered time for both the Federal Bar Association Pro Se Project and Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services helping low-income individuals with their legal needs.  Additionally, Kevin has worked hard to give back to the region through his extensive involvement in community organizations such as the Mankato YWCA, the United Way, City Center Partnership, and the Mankato Diversity Council.

Contact Kevin at 507-345-1166 or at kevelasquez@blethenlaw.com!

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November Attorney of the Month – Silas Danielson

Nov. 09, 2017

silas-l-danielson,Silas Danielson focuses his practice in the areas of Business and Estate Planning. He is also a CPA which helps him to have a common sense approach to business and estate matters.  Silas represents a number of residential and commercial landlords, dealing with complex tenant issues. In addition, he has significant experience handling complex business matters and estate issues.  Prior to becoming a member of our team, Silas worked for a large Minneapolis CPA firm.  Silas believes in providing prompt, quality service to every client.

Silas earned is Bachelor of Arts degree from Concordia College and his J.D. (with honors) from Hamline University Law School.  He is also a Certified Public Accountant.

Silas has spent significant time working with youth. He led a scholarship program offered at the local high schools and has coached high school and youth sports. Other community involvement includes membership in the Minnesota Multi Housing Association (MHA – Mankato chapter), serving on the MRCI Board, serving on the YMCA Board and acting as President of his church.  Silas also served as the chair of the CADA board.  Silas has taught several classes at Minnesota State University, Mankato including aviation and business law.

Silas and his wife Kristy have four children that keep them on the run.  They enjoy spending time with their kids, traveling, reading and spending time with friends.

 

Kelton Gage – A Beloved Partner & Friend

Oct. 24, 2017

Our hearts are heavy as we learned of the passing of Kelton (Kelly) Gage.kelly gage 167x250 - Kelton Gage - A Beloved Partner & Friend

Kelly was admitted as a partner to the firm in 1955.  At that time, the firm name was Blethen, Ogle and Gage.  It wasn’t until 1975, when Arthur Ogle died, that the firm became Blethen, Gage and Krause, its current name.

Kelly retired as a partner in January 1991.  He continued to work for the firm as an attorney through December 2001, which marked the 50th anniversary of his bar admission.  While at the firm, Kelly was a general practitioner but tried many major litigation cases.  Kelly was noted for his extreme intelligence, his almost photographic memory, and his innate sense of fairness, all of which served him very well in his years of legal practice. Kelly continued to remain active in the legal arena by volunteering at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services.

Kelly believed in community.  He was a member of the Mankato School Board from 1957-1966 and the Minnesota State Colleges Board from 1960-1964.  He was also elected and served in the Minnesota Senate from 1966-1972.  He served as President of the Minnesota State Bar Association. He was a former president of the Minnesota Jaycees.  Up until the time of his death, Kelly was a member of the Downtown Kiwanis Club.  

Kelly and his wife, Dorothy, have been dear friends to all past and present employees and partners of Blethen, Gage and Krause.  Kelly was an outstanding leader and was a flagship of the firm. His excellence, guidance and contributions helped make the firm what it is today…..121 years strong.

 

Corbett & Serrill Speak at Employment Law Seminar

Oct. 04, 2017

Julia Ketcham Corbett and Beth Serrill presented at the SMAHRA Employment Law Seminar on September 28 regarding ‘The Lifecycle of a Workplace Investigation from both the Employee’s and the Employer’s Perspective’.  

Conducting an effective investigation will help avoid liability and/or limit damages by showing that the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any harassing behavior.  Below are some helpful reminders:

  • Have a clear and effective reporting policy in your handbook.
  • Train your supervisors.
  • Communicate with employees that your door is always open.
  • Follow your policies.
  • Start the investigation as soon as possible.
  • Effectively plan all steps of the investigation.
  • Communicate with all parties regarding the status of the investigation.
  • Document all aspects of the investigation.
  • Identify appropriate follow-up actions.

Sometimes an investigation can be handled internally.  Larger, full scale investigations may best be served through an attorney.  Blethen, Gage and Krause’s Employment Law Team is trained in the proper investigative techniques that can insulate an employer from liability for an adverse employment action.  Contact Julia Ketcham Corbett, Beth Serrill, Kevin Velasquez, or Alyssa Nelson to assist you with your employment law needs.  They can be reached at 507-345-1166.

TAX INCENTIVES FOR SALES/RENTALS TO BEGINNING FARMERS

Sep. 12, 2017

Written by Christopher Roe

Given the capital and land access issues faced by beginning farmers, it’s not surprising that the average age of the American farmer is approaching age 60.  To get a meaningful start in farming, beginning farmers must deal with numbers in the seven figures in terms of capital requirements and debt.  With these numbers, there is minimal room for error, and many times individuals who may desire to farm choose other opportunities, leaving the rural area in which they grew up.

To combat these issues, Minnesota has a new law that provides tax incentives to taxpayers who sell or rent farming assets such as agricultural land, buildings/facilities, machinery/equipment and livestock to beginning farmers.  This new law offers an opportunity for beginning farmers to develop new relationships to expand their operation.  Furthermore, it provides retiring farmers with no family successors an incentive to start a relationship with a beginning farmer.

Some details of the new Minnesota law:

  • For sales to beginning farmers, the taxpayer receives a tax credit off their Minnesota tax liability of 5% of the sale price up to a maximum of $32,000.00.
  • For rentals to beginning farmers, the taxpayer receives a tax credit off their Minnesota tax liability of 10% of the gross rental income in each of the first 3 years of the lease up to a maximum of $7,000 per year.
  • A beginning farmer is someone who has started farming in the last 10 years and cannot have a net worth greater than $800,000.00.
  • There are no tax credits available for sales/rentals between family members (parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, spouses, children and grandchildren).
  • If the amount of the credit exceeds Minnesota tax liability, the excess may be carried forward 15 years.
  • The Rural Finance Authority must certify the beginning farmer and tax credit. The beginning farmer must participate in a financial management program, the cost of which is subsidized through a tax credit to the beginning farmer.  The credit is capped, and it is on a first come, first served basis.  RFA is in the process of developing a Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Application.

For any questions on the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit or any agricultural law matters, please contact Christopher Roe at 507-345-1166 or croe@blethenlaw.com

 

September Attorney of the Month – Chris Roe

Sep. 07, 2017

Chris Roe has a diverse practice consisting of agricultural, estate/trust, business, and real estate clients.

A large part of Chris’ practice is devoted to assisting individuals and businesses in the agricultural setting. Chris is a farmer himself; he and his family operate Roe Farms a large crop/hog operation near LeRoy, MN.

Chris handles estate planning and estate administration matters including wills, trusts, powers of attorney, health care directives and probate matters. He concentrates mainly on large and complex estate and trust matters including estates or trusts that involve businesses or farm operations.

Chris acts as outside general counsel to many non-profit and for-profit business enterprises, emphasizing on business organization, employment, mergers, acquisitions, sales, contracting and governmental matters.

He is routinely involved in agricultural, commercial and residential real estate matters such as purchase agreements, title opinions, title insurance, and closings.

Contact Chris at 507-345-1166 or at croe@blethenlaw.com.

Role of Insurance in Civil Litigation

Aug. 23, 2017

Written by Ben McAninch

Most people understand how insurance claims work and most people understand why it’s a good idea to carry insurance. What might be surprising is the degree to which insurance issues affect civil lawsuits. The following is a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the ways in which insurance affects litigation.          

Cost to bring a suit: Lawsuits cost money. One of the factors in determining whether a lawsuit is worth bringing is whether a judgment would be collectible in the event of a victory. While it is easy to say, “it’s not the money, it’s the principle,” it’s harder to pay a lawyer thousands of dollars in legal fees to obtain a judgement from a party who can’t afford to pay. There’s also a disincentive to bring a small claim where even a nominal victory in Court would not yield as much money as the cost to obtain the verdict.  In most cases involving negligence (auto, recreational vehicle, homeowners’, farm liability, commercial, construction defect), some kind of insurance is involved. If the claims made in the lawsuit are covered, the insurance company generally provides a defense to those claims. Thus, the person getting sued doesn’t have to pay their lawyer. The fact that the fees are paid by someone else affects the litigation strategy.

Identity of the lawyer: Since the insurance company has the obligation to pay, it generally gets to choose the lawyer handling your case. Your insurance company doesn’t want you hiring your cousin-in-law who just passed the bar and who generally writes contracts to defend your multi-million dollar injury case. Insurance companies usually have panels of attorneys that have been determined to be able to properly represent their insureds’ interests. Thus, the presence of insurance sometimes means you don’t choose your own lawyer.

Coverage Limits: A defendant with a small amount of coverage may see their insurance company more willing to settle the claim to avoid a verdict in excess of the policy amount. Having a larger limit generally gives the insured more piece of mind. On the other hand, an individual with a very large insurance policy may become more of a target than someone who has a smaller policy. This analysis is often dependent on the availability of other assets to pay a judgment.

Subrogation: Sometimes insurance companies sue other insurance companies or entities on behalf of their insureds. If your insurance company pays a loss and subsequently discovers that another carrier or entity should have compensated that loss, it may bring the lawsuit against that other entity.

Bad Faith: An insurance company generally has a duty “to the insured to represent his or her best interests and to defend and indemnify the insured. Even though the insurer has the right to control negotiations, that right must be subordinated to the purpose of the insurance contract – to defend and indemnify the insured within the limits of the insurance contract.” Short v. Dairy Land Ins. Co., 334 N.W.2d 384 (1983). Without getting into a highly technical analysis, failure to fulfill that duty can subject an insurance company to a claim of “bad faith.”  Attorneys for insureds or injured people may include a claim that an insurance company will be found to be in bad faith as a means of increasing the potential exposure and leveraging a better result.

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Ben McAninch – August Attorney of the Month

Aug. 04, 2017

Ben McAninch joined Blethen, Gage and Krause in 2010 after practicing for more than seven years at a litigation firm ben-d-mcaninchin Birmingham, Alabama.  Ben’s practice was devoted primarily to the defense of physicianshospitals and other health care providers in medical malpractice cases.

He gained significant trial experience while in Alabama and was named a partner at that firm in February of 2009. Since his return to Minnesota, Ben’s practice has been focused on general civil litigationinsurance defenseagricultural litigation and probate litigation.

Ben has proven his great litigation skills as indicated below for some of his most notable cases:

  • Obtained a favorable opinion from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit while representing two landowners against Grinnell Mutual Insurance Company in an insurance coverage dispute.  Grinnell declined to provide coverage pursuant to its farm liability policy when an ATV injury occurred on their property.  The Federal District Court Judge and Eighth Circuit agreed with our interpretation of the relevant policy language and ordered Grinnell to provide coverage.
  • Defended insured driver and owner of vehicle to jury verdict in Brown County, Minnesota.  The jury awarded damages near our previous offer but significantly lower than plaintiff’s demand.
  • Defended insured driver to jury verdict in Martin County, Minnesota.  The jury assessed damages against our client in an amount less than our previous offer.
  • Defended underinsured motorist claim on behalf of a national insurance company before a jury in Olmsted County.  The jury returned a verdict which reflected that there was no claim for underinsured motorist benefits.
  • Successful representation of a sanitary district in a three-day contested case hearing which resulted in the Administrative Law Judge and MPCA finding in favor of the district.
  • Successful representation of farming heirs in a trial involving a probate dispute/will contest which resulted in nearly all claims being denied.  The Court returned a verdict far below our clients’ previous offer of settlement.
  • Defended a bus company and its driver from injury claims following an accident in McLeod County. The jury returned a verdict below the offer of settlement made by the defense.

If you’d like to contact Ben, give him a call at 507-345-1166.

Overtime Rule Back on the Table – DOL Requests Feedback

Aug. 03, 2017

Under the Obama Administration, new rules regarding overtime were set to go into effect December 1, 2016.  However, a federal judge in Texas but the brakes on the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) new overtime rule which would have doubled the FLSA’s salary threshold for the “White Collar” exemptions from overtime pay and would have automatically adjusted the threshold every three years beginning in 2020.

This topic is now being readdressed.  If you are interested in providing feedback regarding defining and delimiting the exemptions for executive, administrative, professional, outside sales and computer employees, the DOL is asking for your help.

DOL has issued a Request for Information (RFI) offering the public the opportunity to provide information that will aid the Department in formulating a proposal to revise these regulations.

The RFI solicits feedback on questions related to the salary level test, the duties test, inclusion of non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments to satisfy a portion of the salary level, the salary test for highly compensated employees, and automatic updating of the salary tests.

The 60 day comment period for all issues raised in the RFI ends on September 25, 2017.  For more information, go here .

If you have any questions regarding employment law issues, contact our employment law attorneys at 504-345-1166.

 

Divorce – I Don’t Know Where to Start

Jul. 27, 2017

Written by Beth Serrill

Meeting with a divorce attorney can be stressful.  Spending some time reflecting and gathering information before your meeting can insure that the meeting meets your needs.

Knowledge is power and the fear of the unknown can be paralyzing.  Sometimes understanding the process…and getting reassurance that there is a light at the end of the tunnel…is helpful in analyzing options and deciding next steps.  Not everyone who meets with a divorce attorney gets a divorce and setting up an appointment doesn’t mean you’re giving up on the marriage.  Some people are ready for an action plan and hearing an attorney’s specific thoughts on strategy and steps to take can help you decide if the attorney is a good fit for you.

Below are some topics that you should think about in preparation of a meeting:

  • Kids (if you have them)

What schedule are you following now?  Is it a good fit?

What schedule do you think would be best for your kids long term?

  • Finances

You don’t have to have any financial information to have a productive initial consultation, but some pieces of information can be helpful in tailoring the conversation.  At the same time, don’t stress if you don’t handle the finances and don’t know much about your financial position.  If you can, consider reviewing the following:  mortgage statement, tax assessed value of the house, checking/savings account statements, credit cards, vehicles, and retirement/investment accounts.

  • Nonmarital claims

Did you own anything prior to the marriage?

Did you sell a house and use the proceeds to buy a marital home?

Did you have a retirement account prior to the marriage?

Have you inherited anything since you got married?

Have you been involved in any lawsuits that resulted in payments?

Did you have any debt coming into the marriage?

Were you in college?  Did you have any student loans?

You should also consider what type of an attorney you want.  An initial consultation is an opportunity to interview an attorney and to decide if they seem like a good fit.  Be sure to ask the following questions:

What’s their personality like? 

Are you comfortable talking to them and asking questions? 

Do they explain things in a way that’s easy for you to understand?

What’s their approach to family law?  Does that fit with what you want?

What ideas do they have to try to solve problems and reach agreements?

How long have they been practicing?

How big is their firm? What staff will be working with you? Are there other attorneys with helpful practice areas such as Business and Real Estate?

What do they think is a reasonable amount of time to return phone calls?  Emails?  Do they respond to emails after hours or on weekends?  What is their anticipated timeline?

Choosing an attorney is a big decision and just because someone says they practice in family law doesn’t mean they should.  Trust your instincts and if you don’t feel like the attorney is a good fit, schedule a consultation with another attorney.  Considering some of these items may make your initial consultation more productive and helpful to you. 

Beth Serrill is a Family Law attorney with Blethen, Gage and Krause.  If you are considering a divorce and would like a consultation, you may contact her at 507-345-1166 or at bserrill@blethenlaw.com.