Bench + Bar of Minnesota

President's Page: Until we meet again

By Paul D. Peterson 

I first became active in the Ramsey County Bar Association as a new lawyer practicing in St. Paul. My career as an active member of the MSBA began in approximately 2003. It is incredible to have been selected to serve as your president this past year—and to think back and appreciate the many wonderful people I have encountered along the way. I am grateful to you for the opportunity.

This is my final President’s Page, and I want to express gratitude to the many people I have worked with this year. Time and space do not allow a proper effort in this regard, but I want to take a moment to thank my fellow officers: Paul Floyd, Sam Edmunds, and Tom Pack. I look forward to your continued leadership. I also need to thank our Board of Governors. The dedication, skill, and intellect of these members serving as the board for our association is wonderful. Many thanks also to the members of our Assembly—our policymaking leaders—for their hard work. Finally, thanks to Cheryl Dalby, our CEO, and our wonderful staff. You serve with distinction, and you have my unending gratitude. 

I also must thank Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea and the members of our Supreme Court; Chief Judge Susan Segal and our Court of Appeals; and our trial judges, especially Judge Lois Conroy, the president of the District Judges Association. It has been a pleasure to work with you. Throughout all our legislative, educational, and other work together, my already considerable admiration and respect grew exponentially. 

As the MSBA president, I see the incredible work being done by the leaders and members of our affinity/associated bars, our sections, our committees, and all the various task forces and commissions that move our profession, our justice system, and our society forward every day. My thanks to you for your contributions. 

Over the past year I have discussed the value of belonging to and participating in in the MSBA. In response I received communication from a handful of members suggesting that the “political” bent of the MSBA was a reason we didn’t have higher membership numbers. I want to thank these members for reaching out to me. I also want to thank them for their continued membership. They indicated they remained members because of the benefits they received in other areas. That is exactly one of the points I’ve been trying to make this past year—you may not like everything about the MSBA or agree with all its positions, but there is so much more to be gained by active membership if one explores the possibilities.

Throughout my time participating in the MSBA, I have tried not to let the politics get in the way of the good work of the MSBA. While some may find the positions of the MSBA too liberal, I am sure others would argue the MSBA is too conservative. If many members didn’t check their political beliefs at the door, a lot of good work on behalf of the profession could be lost. Active membership is the basis of our ability to do good work.

But there is also a threat to our system that the MSBA likely can’t avoid. In contemporary politics, anti-democratic forces are increasingly challenging the role of the rule of law in resolving disputes in our society. Whatever our partisan affiliations, no amount of desire to avoid what some may term “getting political” will suffice to let us avoid what may be on the horizon.

There is an authoritarian strain in America that is growing inside our political system. This is a challenge. I often mention the common bond reflected in the oath we took as lawyers. That oath is more important today than ever. We as a profession stand for the rule of law and the acceptance of legal outcomes. One miracle of the United States is found in its dispute-resolution system. As a society based on the rule of law, our goal is to resolve disputes without resorting to violence. 

But this bedrock value is being tested like never before. What will you do if our basic system of democracy is at stake? While I hope this threat is thoroughly dealt with at the ballot box, lawyers and the courts are certainly implicated in these disputes as well. If this crisis of democracy arrives at the MSBA doorstep, I will no longer be in formal leadership ranks, but I will be fighting with every ounce of my being, as a lawyer and a citizen, any efforts to undo the rule of law; to take away the right to vote; to marginalize or render invisible whole segments of our population; or to impose an authoritarian regime in the United States. We have many problems, inside and out of the profession, but the move away from democracy and toward authoritarianism is not the answer. Please keep joining me in supporting the bar and working for a free and democratic United States and Minnesota. 

Until we next meet, please take care. The past year has been an experience like no other and for that I thank you. 

Paul Peterson represents families in personal injury and wrongful death cases. His office is in Woodbury and he is licensed in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. He is the proud papa of four above-average children and one outstanding dog.

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