May/June 2001 

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Highway 61 Revisited

by Kent A. Gernander

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We move up the river -- always through enchanting scenery, there being no other kind on the Upper Mississippi. ... The majestic bluffs that overlook the river ... the shining river, winding here and there and yonder, its sweep interrupted at intervals by clusters of wooded islands threaded by silver channels; ... distant villages, asleep upon capes; and ... steamers vanishing around remote points.
--Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Highway 61 follows the river and bluffs north from Winona. Barges pass through Lock and Dam #5 near Minnesota City, and negotiate a tight turn near Minneiska. Tundra swans and other waterfowl gather in the Weaver bottoms. Eagles soar near Reeds Landing. Sail boats and fishermen navigate Lake Pepin. In fall Lake City's maple trees show spectacular color and roadside stands display locally grown apples. In winter, when the river freezes over, eagles fish open water and rest on the ice. In spring the river rises and spreads across the valley.

People ask about the commute from Winona to the Twin Cities, assuming travel is a burden for an outstate Bar president. I have enjoyed the drive and the interludes for observation and reflection.
It has been a busy and productive year for the MSBA. Much of what we did reflects the values we bring to our profession, and the strength of our membership.

Civil Legal Services. Substantial progress has been made on our goal of securing increased funding for civil legal services in Minnesota. Legislative funding remains unresolved as this is written, because of the budget stalemate. However, a large and committed constituency for legal aid produced unprecedented support in the Legislature for stable and increased funding. Several financial institutions have acted to improve yields on IOLTA accounts. An endowment fund has been created and a fund-raising campaign is being planned. There remains a large unmet need for legal aid to the disadvantaged, but the profession is committed to meeting it, through publicly funded programs and pro bono service.

Diversity and Bias Elimination. Important work is being done by the MSBA Diversity Committee and by the Minority Bar Summit, a periodic gathering of leaders of the MSBA and specialty bar organizations. Together, we have taken positions on bar admissions testing, racial profiling legislation, and educational opportunities. And today more nearly than ever before the leadership of the MSBA reflects the diversity of our membership and of the people we serve.

Lawyers for Habitat. This spring the MSBA sponsored construction of a house through the Twin Cities Chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The house, on St. Paul's East Side, is nearing completion. Lawyers are contributing 800 volunteer days and $40,000 to the project, which will provide a home for one family, and will contribute to meeting the Habitat goal of eliminating poverty housing and making decent, affordable shelter for all people a matter of conscience.

Judiciary. The MSBA provided support for the efforts of the courts to secure adequate legislative funding. The MSBA Civil Litigation Section, with support from judges, secured the adoption of a statewide judicial evaluation program. The MSBA was involved in judicial elections, conducting a plebiscite of members on contested elections, filing amicus briefs in litigation challenging rules on candidate conduct, and participating in public debate on the role of political parties in judicial elections. We plan to convene a forum on judicial selection this October.

Program Review. The MSBA underwent an ABA operations audit, focused on governance, staffing and communications. The MSBA staff conducted an internal examination of communications, looking at the information we disseminate and the ways we communicate. Our Governance and Finance Committee reviewed all MSBA programs and activities to identify objectives and measure effectiveness.

Technology. The MSBA continues to use developing technologies to improve its operations and communications, and to help members improve their practices and serve their clients. Internet-based practice aids, known as FILE programs, are being developed by staff and sections; the first, covering family law, is scheduled for imminent launch, and several more will be online soon. The Legal News Digest, an online service, has become a popular source of current news summaries linked to more comprehensive coverage. It facilitates rapid dissemination and frequent updates at modest cost.

Mentoring. Development of a program for mentoring and skills training remains in the planning stage. There appears to be a strong consensus that such a program is valuable, and a planning group has made progress in defining its elements.

Convention. This Bar year will conclude with an outstanding annual convention, scheduled for June 20-22 at St. Paul's River Centre. The business agenda includes proposed rules for multidisciplinary practice, a proposal to increase the limit on client security claims, reports on state and federal judiciaries and Ethics 2000, and a presentation by the Great American History Theater. Featured speakers include Julian Bond, David Gergen, William C. Moyers, Jesse Ventura, and Mark Yudof. Meetings and seminars will focus on important topics, such as racial profiling, judicial appointments, and chemical dependency. An abundance of CLE programming will be offered. Social events include the Welcome Barbecue at Como Park, an excursion on the Harriet Bishop, the President's Reception, Kids' Party and Social at the Science Center, as well as golf, biking, and all the cultural and commercial resources of the metropolitan area.

It has been an honor and a pleasure to share these and other activities with you. I appreciate the guidance of previous leaders, the support of current members, and the promise of capable successors.

Kent Gernander

Kent A. Gernander is president of the MSBA. A general practice and trial lawyer in the Winona firm of Streater & Murphy, P.A., he is a graduate of Harvard College and of the University of Minnesota Law School.