Jack weekly musing: Lawsuits
At Mixed Blood, we have used theatre to tackle cultural disparities in the legal profession and justice system. We have provided Continuing Legal Education in ethics and the elimination of bias to county attorneys’ offices, public defenders, law firms, bar associations, judges and Justices, corporate legal departments, law schools, and more.
But leading a non-profit takes one into arenas far past their training and experience. And so it has been for me at Mixed Blood, to not only train lawyers but to also participate in the judicial process. Let me share a bit of Mixed Blood’s litigious history, replete with lessons learned.
In 1984, after a foreclosure on a developer by HUD, we were given a right of first refusal to purchase our historic firehouse for a dime on the dollar, which we did. Under many/most circumstances non-profits are entitled to an exemption from property taxes. When we applied for that exemption, a bureaucrat in the City Assessor Office, who was still miffed that the Guthrie had gotten such an exemption 21 years earlier, declined our application to set a precedent to undo such exemptions statewide. While such a declination would cost us about $4500 annually, it would have cost others dearly, over a million dollars for Orchestra Hall, the Ordway, MIA, and many many more.
Board president Jim McCarthy, an attorney at Lindquist and Vennum, led a charge supported by Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, that lasted six years and allowed your donations to pay for the operations of non-profits and not that organization’s property taxes.
In the summer of 1987 Mixed Blood replaced its tar and gravel roof with a rubber membrane while we insulated a room that had previously been a hayloft for the horses that pulled the firetrucks. On July 23, 1987, there was the storm of the century and that superstorm dumped ten inches of rain in eight hours, still a record. The roofers hadn’t affixed the gutters and water flooded into the newly insulated walls, greatly diminishing their insulating capabilities. That legal action took a couple of years (to positive results).
To celebrate our 40th anniversary, we arranged to have a gala at Paisley Park. Three weeks prior to that soiree, Prince, sadly, passed away. The family assured us that the event could go on and we had well over 1,000 tickets sold. Ten days later Bremer Trust was appointed administrator and its law firm, Stinson Leonard Street, were the spokespeople. I contacted one of Bremer’s three trustees and the President of the law firm, both of whom I, coincidentally, knew. Nonetheless, they canceled our event five days before its occurrence! 18 months and much agonizing later, that mediated settlement yielded the amount that would have been raised had the event been able to go on.
In 2012, in anticipation of a capital campaign and restoration of our 19th Century fire station, I asked Fire Chief Fruetel if the bell that had originally been in our belltower could be returned, to which the answer was yes. Three years later, having done the expensive work to prepare that tower, a disreputable employee of the City’s Property Services division, dishonestly denied that such an arrangement had been made. Heard on Zoom during the pandemic, a judge dismissed the case.
Justice Alan Page allowed me to be the lone non-attorney on his Racial Fairness in the Courts task force for seven years, and it was an honor.
While never in any artistic director’s job description, my experiences as a supporter, participant, curator, and litigant inspire me to so believe in justice and the intent of the justice system all the more, while recognizing how many are unserved, underserved, and poorly served.