What’s next after death-row victory?

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 6, 2012 - 4:57 PM

� Veteran technology entrepreneur Mark Kroll, his son Brady, and veterinarian Lisa Lavin have come up with the new technology that allows pet owners to chat with their pets remotely. Lisa Lavin with her poddle Hattie, talked about the challenges of bringing a new product to market.

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Business lawyer Steve Kaplan drove back from New Orleans last week and had plenty of time to contemplate his future. He had just wrapped up a career-capstone case that freed an innocent man -- and paid him nothing.

"I've been fortunate," said Kaplan, a tax and commercial litigator at the Minneapolis law firm of Fredrikson & Byron and a former U.S. Justice Department trial attorney.

"I've got a great love for my firm and what we've just done. But I'm almost 66 and I might let the younger guys take care of business. I just need to finish a few odds and ends for a few clients.

"Most of what we do is try to move money from one business, or one person's pocket to another. It's not usually about life and death. This case was different."

Damon Thibodeaux, a 15-year death-row inmate in Louisiana, was freed Sept. 28 by a Louisiana judge who reviewed evidence presented by Kaplan and other lawyers from Fredrikson and the Innocence Project. Using DNA and other proof, they showed that Thibodeaux had been coerced by police in 1996 to falsely confess to the rape and murder of his 14-year-old cousin.

Kaplan said the case required about 6,000 hours of pro bono work by Fredrikson lawyers and others -- the latest case in the firm's 25-year history of representing death-row clients for free. He estimated the value of Thibodeaux's representation at more than $1.5 million.

"I am so grateful to the firm for this opportunity," Kaplan said. "You start with the professional obligation, and then you realize what a gift it is to do something for somebody who could not possibly afford you if you were charging and ... who is so grateful for your work. You hope for the best outcome ... and our first death-row client was executed. It is a monumental path to undo a jury verdict. You give it your best for a client who had no one fighting for him. There's deep satisfaction in that."

Kaplan said he might stay at Fredrikson to work on pro bono cases, at the request of the firm, or he may leave for other volunteer work. Kaplan also has been a prolific writer and speaker on subjects that include tax-refund litigation, trial advocacy, ethical issues in white-collar defense, bank fraud and fidelity insurance.

INVESTING IN PETS

Anser Innovation has raised $1 million from individual angel investors to help launch its pet-communication technology in early 2013.

CEO Lisa Lavin is a graduate of the entrepreneur education and certification program created by the Minnesota Angel Network last year. Anser Innovation is the third company certified by the network to successfully close an investment round since May.

Anser aims to take social media beyond people. Its PetChatz technology lets owners use a smartphone or other Internet-enabled device to see and talk to their dogs and other pets. Lavin's research shows that Americans don't like to leave their pets home alone and PetChatz creates owner "peace of mind."

Lavin, who has 20 years' experience in commercializing health care and animal care products, says the technology one day can assist the elderly and dependent children. For now, Burnsville-based Anser is just more proof that we are a great country at the intersection of geeks and dogs.

COALITION PUSHES FOR RENEWAL OF WIND POWER TAX CREDIT

A coalition of Minnesota politicians, businesspeople and unions has called on Minnesota's congressional delegation to renew the federal wind energy production tax credit. The supporters include the Sierra Club, Minnesota Farmers Union and 35 other businesses, elected officials and organizations.

The 75,000-job wind industry is shedding employees and projects because the tax credit might not be renewed after this year. Utility-scale wind turbine owners get a 2.2 cents-per-kilowatt-hour income tax credit for the first 10 years, or investors may take a 30 percent tax credit on the cost of the system, but not both. The tax break costs the U.S. Treasury about $1.1 billion a year.

Supporters say wind power is an improving, increasingly competitive way to generate electricity with no fuel cost, no pollution and no need for waste disposal. More than 15 percent of the electricity generated in the Upper Midwest comes from wind power.

"The abrupt expiration of the [production tax credit] on Dec. 31 puts all of this at risk," said Mark Ahlstrom, CEO of WindLogics, a St. Paul firm that studies wind farm locations. "Companies cannot plan wind projects with this level of uncertainty."

HORT TAKES

•Veteran Mike Franta has joined U.S. Bank as Minneapolis market manager for commercial real estate. Franta, 51, will lead the 20-person Minneapolis office, one of the largest in the country for USB. Franta has been around the block, including tours at as a senior leader in the business capital group at GMAC ResCap, at the former RBC Dain Rauscher, Wells Fargo and Ernst & Young. Franta most recently served as a senior managing director for Apex Capital Management. Recent financings by U.S. Bank's Minneapolis CRE group include the refurbished Ford Center near Target Field and downtown's LaSalle Plaza.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher of the Minnesota High Tech Association, a technology firm trade organization, reports that ReconRobotics, PaR Systems, Biovation Holdings, SheerWind, OrthoCor Medical, Open Access Technology International and Sophia Learning are among the finalists for the annual Minnesota Tekne Awards on Nov. 1 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. More information: www.tekneawards.org.

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