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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Transitions and Reflections

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” —Winston Churchill

Late last month, I had the honor and the great personal pleasure of participating in the investiture ceremony of three judges new to our outstanding court of appeals, and, on another occasion, to attend the retirement party of a dedicated jurist known nationally for her service. Not only did I learn about the critical importance of our intermediate court in the process, but both events served as a poignant reminder that we are each indebted to others for our development and our success.

Appellate Investiture

On February 28, 2012, Edward J. Cleary, John R. Rodenberg, and Margaret H. Chutich became the 44th, 45th, and 46th judges to serve on the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Temporarily holding the title of MSBA President, I was asked to say a few words at their investiture. With the many folks in attendance, I listened to the tributes others paid to their careers and talents. Even more striking were the inductees’ thanks to those who enabled them to become the persons they are today. You couldn’t help but be moved, but more on that in a moment.

Preparing for my 120 seconds in the limelight, I wondered what I could possibly say to the audience that they hadn’t heard from the dignitaries who came before me, including Chief Justice Gildea, Governor Dayton, Judge Diane Murphy from the United States 8thCircuit Court of Appeals, and numerous others. Inspired by a suggestion from Judge Halbrooks and fortified by the kindness and scholarly work of Cindy Lehr, chief attorney for the court of appeals (thank you Cindy), I shared with the attendees little-known facts about the critical role the intermediate appellate court has played in our state and the impressive productivity and hard work of its members and staff since it began operation in 1983.

Since the court began accepting filings, about 67,500 cases have been filed, for an average of about 2,370 per year. The court has grown from the first six judges to 19 today. In more than 95 percent of the cases filed, the court of appeals decision is the final decision, with the supreme court granting further review in less than 5 percent of cases. Each judge of the court of appeals is responsible for writing 75-80 opinions per year, participating as a panel member in hearing three times that number of cases, and handling many motions and petitions while serving with the chief judge on the weekly special term calendar.

In 2011, the court held oral arguments in 650 cases and 788 cases had non-oral conferences. Before the court of appeals was created, all of those cases would have gone to the supreme court, on top of the murder-one, contested election, tax court, workers’ compensation, and attorney discipline cases that court must hear.

At any given time, 1,200 cases are pending before the court, but they don’t stay long; the court in recent years has consistently disposed of as many cases as there are new filings each year. It is generally acknowledged to be one of the timeliest and most efficient intermediate appellate courts in the country. Impressive!

Congratulations to Judges Cleary, Rodenberg, and Chutich and thank you for your service. Thank you too to your 16 colleagues for the integral role they each play in our system of justice on behalf of the citizens of our state.

Retirement of a Mentor

On February 29 I attended the retirement party for Judge Cara Lee Neville, a friend and a mentor. Judge Neville has served on the Hennepin County bench since 1983 and her accomplishments are literally so extensive they would fill the majority of this magazine. Currently, Judge Neville serves as secretary of the American Bar Association nationally and is a member of the ABA Executive Committee. She has served on its Board of Governors and House of Delegates, chaired the Criminal Law Section, served as the Minnesota state delegate twice, been active in the MSBA and the Hennepin County Bar Association, served as national president of the National Association of Women Judges and as a director of the American Judicature Society, etc., etc., etc. The list goes on seemingly forever. Cara Lee’s dedication and commitment to public service, furthering the rule of law, access to justice, and improving the lives of others is stunning. We are all very proud and grateful for all that Judge Neville has done for each of us. Our best to you Cara Lee as you continue to do great work in all your roles and as you continue your travels worldwide.

Alongside her high-profile accomplishments, Judge Neville’s humanity and care for others are most striking. She has been a friend and mentor to me personally as I navigate my way through my career and involvement in the Bar. Thank you Cara Lee.

A moment’s reflection by each of us will bring to mind the many persons who have made a difference in our lives. It is so rare that we take the time to let others know what they have meant to us in our career or our lives. I recently learned of the existence of The Harvard Mentoring Project that documents the often-compelling personal stories of folks who thank, by video recording, those in their lives who offered encouragement, showed them “the ropes,” and helped them become the persons they are today. Check out the website http://tinyurl.com/y8gud9w to read or listen to the stories. Better yet, pick up the phone, write a real letter, or pay a visit to someone who has helped you and let them know what their help meant to you. And most important, pay it forward.

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Brent Routman

Brent Routman was president of the Minnesota State Bar Association from 2011-2012. He is a partner, general counsel, and Asia Regional Trademark Attorney with the intellectual property law firm of Merchant & Gould in Minneapolis.