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

Reflections & Refractions

Bar presidents customarily devote their final, May/June President’s Page to giving a retrospective on the year, thanking all the appropriate persons. Still short of that final hurdle, I already feel that instead of being on the rubber chicken circuit of receptions, I’m entering the phase where lame duck is on the menu. Aside from all the things we accomplished, I thought you’d enjoy hearing about all the faux pas as well.

Due to my somewhat unusual ascension to the officer’s ranks, having never served as secretary of this fine association and only serving as acting treasurer for a few months, I tend to see the last two and a half years as one continuous experience. I remember well my first Council meeting, which was to be followed immediately by my first Assembly meeting as an officer. I made sure to show up on time in the Minnesota CLE Auditorium and after about 20 minutes (I’m pretty quick), I started to wonder why everyone else was so late. Of course, I didn’t know that the Council meets in the MSBA offices, not in the MN CLE facility. I missed much of the meeting but comforted myself with the idea that, just as a member of the Cabinet needs to be off-site during a State of Union address, perhaps at least one MSBA officer should be off-site in case something should happen. Others weren’t impressed by my safety concerns.

Perils of the President-Elect

As president-elect, and simultaneously serving as president of the Coalition for Impartial Justice, I was a bit busy attending meetings, dealing with parliamentary procedure, constantly checking my Blackberry, and running to the Capitol for hearings. At one hearing, while I was looking down at my Blackberry, the chair called for a vote “All in favor, signify by saying Aye.” Guess who yelled out their vote? Thank goodness he didn’t ask for a hand vote.

I remember well picking up my then 86-year-old Jewish mother at the airport. She was paying a visit from, where else, Boca Raton, Florida. As she got into the car, I explained that we would be attending the swearing in of Lorie Gildea as chief justice. Once in the car, my mother sought clarification “So, you are going to become president of the ABA, right?” “No mother, the MSBA, do you know how many persons are in the ABA?” “Yes, hundreds of thousands.” “That’s right Mom.” “So you’re not going to be ABA President?” “No Mom.” “But I’ve already told everyone.” My mind immediately raced to a swimming pool in South Florida where Steve Zack’s Jewish mother (Steve was indeed the ABA President from South Florida) and my Mom would be arguing “No, my son’s the president of the ABA.” She quickly assured me, “It’s OK Brent, I’m still proud of you.”

On to the 9 Days gathering, where I introduced Justice Chris Dietzen to someone as being a judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Nice. Fortunately, I don’t practice in state court. Justice Dietzen is such a gentleman, he laughed it off. On to the 9th day and my big acceptance speech. My darling mother was of course in for the event. As I found out later that night, my mother had the occasion to again see Justice Gildea when the Chief, being very kind, walked over to congratulate her on my presidency. Armed with the knowledge that my big brother Lloyd is a part-time traffic judge in, you guessed it, Boca Raton, my mother proceeded to ask the Chief if hers was a full-time job. “OMG Mom, did she laugh?” “No, she didn’t laugh.” There go bench-bar relations for a generation! The next day at the Assembly meeting I happened to walk into the meeting with Justice Dietzen, who told me what a pleasure it was to meet my family (always the gentleman). I thanked him but mentioned that I understood my mother and the Chief had a conversation. He immediately responded (with a smile) “Yeah, I heard.”

Pleasures of the Presidency

Of course, as you probably know, my presidency actually started at 12:01 on July 1, 2011, the instant that the state closed down for 18 days. Not a problem, at least the 9 Days were over.

Dealing with certain media outlets has been a blast. Like the times I was almost devastatingly misquoted, once to suggest that in going to Cuba we would violate U.S. law, and the second time to wrongfully suggest that I was critical of our fine system of judicial appointments. For the record, I really do think we are incredibly blessed with an outstanding judiciary throughout the state. And, speaking of Cuba, ask me sometime about the near international incident when a flower pot was inadvertently dropped at the hotel where Hemingway wrote The Old Man and The Sea.

On a more serious note, this has been a wonderful experience. I can never thank you all enough for the honor and opportunity given me to move the ball forward. We made common sense changes to governance. We’ve started to enhance the strength and relevance of the association as a whole by improving communications among sections, committees, and bar associations statewide via the new Council of Sections, Council of Bar Leaders, and Council of Committees. We have established the Access to Justice Summit to help those doing the day-to-day good work of serving the disadvantaged. The AMICUS Society, inspired by the vision of past-president Lew Remele, is off and running to support the entire judicial system, and Committee 36, chaired by the amazing Kendra Brodin, is already making a difference in the careers and lives of our newest members. Assembly members can now participate in meeting through web casting, and we made a small but significant contribution to our colleagues in Japan assisting victims of the devastating tsunami.

Enjoy the Spring and stay in touch.

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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.