In the lawsuit of Gracelyn Trimble vs. former Minnesota Viking, Dalvin Cook, involving allegations of physical domestic violence and injuries, Special Master Judge Robert A. Blaeser has issued a scorching and devastating order against Ms. Trimble and her lawyers, sanctioning them, disqualifying the lawyers, and ordering Plaintiff to pay her adversary’s legal fees, for, in Judge Blaeser’s words, “repeatedly trying this case in the media rather than on the merits through the judicial system.”
Minnesota Litigator holds the Trimble’s lawyers in the highest regard, in fact thinks of them as some of the best Minnesota civil litigators. So you can imagine our sympathy for the circumstances they now find themselves in. Obviously, there are appellate rights and we have to imagine that Judge Blaeser’s sanction and disqualification order will be appealed.
In spite of our sympathy for Ms. Trimble and her lawyers, we nevertheless shine a light on Judge Blaeser’s opinion because one of the functions that Minnesota Litigator hopes to serve the civil litigators of Minnesota (and the bench) is to highlight developments in Minnesota civil litigation as cautionary tales.
We have not performed any close legal analysis of Judge Blaeser’s order or the underlying facts but we can say with great certainty that (1) the rule of evidence with regard to the inadmissibility of settlements and settlement-related communications (Rule 408) is an evidentiary rule. It applies to the admissibility of settlement negotiations at trial; it is not a rule that settlements or settlement communications cannot be made public; (2) we have found, in spite of the first point, that there is a widespread attitude among many if not most Minnesota civil litigators that communications labeled “Privileged and Confidential/Subject to Rule 408,” requires the recipient to keep the communication confidential. (There is an added issue of a stipulated protective order in the case (allowing for parties to produce evidence, designate it confidential, and have it stay confidential absent a court order to the contrary), and whether the protective order would have applied to these communications, etc. As said, we have not analyzed all of the issues and expressly decline to offer any opinion on Judge Blaeser’s order.) What to do with this tension between the first point and the second, though? That is pretty clear in the shadow of this ruling: BE CAREFUL.