Bench + Bar of Minnesota

If you could have dinner with any historical or fictional legal figure, who would it be and why?

Curt Trisko

Curt Trisko is a member at Cozen O’Connor with a practice focusing primarily on real estate. 

Robespierre. First and foremost, I am sure he would take me to a better restaurant than someone like Atticus Finch or Chief Justice Burger. Second, I would have the opportunity to tell him that the intrigues and terror that he provoked in 18th century France inspired a card game that we greatly enjoy at the Cozen office: Guillotine. The hostess would seat us at our table and he would spend the first five minutes talking about liberty (“liberté”) and equality (“égalité”) while I focus on the menu and decide whether I am more hungry for beef (“bœuf”) or pork (“porc”). After we finish our first drinks, he’d ask me what it’s like to be an attorney in our day and age. I’d tell him about form agreements and Microsoft Word. He’d ridicule me for the relative lack of fiery speeches. I’d tell him to be careful about sticking his neck out so much, but it would go over his head. After his third glass of wine, he’d become sentimental and ask me what became of the French Revolution and all his efforts. I’d say, “you know, it turned out okay—I think you’d be proud.”

Téa Baker

Téa Baker is an associate attorney at Chestnut Cambronne PA who focuses her practice on elder law (including Medicaid and special needs trust law). 

If I could have dinner with a historical legal figure, it would be Sandra Day O’Connor. Well known as the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court, her impact on female presence and leadership in the legal profession was instrumental. Growing up we all look to “role models” who shape our dreams and our vision of our future selves. We aspire to reach certain goals and we gain motivation and courage to step out of our comfort zones when we can see that our goal is possible. Talking with her about her path and the challenges she endured to become not only the first woman on Supreme Court, but a female legal professional, would continue to fuel the admiration I have for those who helped women see what was possible in this profession. 


Karl Johnson

Karl J. Johnson is an attorney at Sapientia Law Group and is certified as a business bankruptcy specialist by the American Board of Certification.

On June 22, 1938, just over eight years after Black Friday and near the end of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt signed the Chandler Act and bankruptcy stopped being primarily a creditor’s remedy. Although the prior Nelson Act of 1898 allowed for a discharge of debts, the discharge was very limited and required a minimum percentage distribution to creditors. The focus was the liquidation of the debtor’s assets and their distribution to creditors. 

Dinner with Tennessee U.S. Rep. and former Memphis City Attorney Walter Chandler would be an opportunity to explore the historical influences that changed bankruptcy from a coercive procedure for creditors to recover from debtors into a path for the honest but unlucky debtor to pay as much as possible—even if that’s nothing—and then get a fresh start. Perhaps Chandler would be interested in how bankruptcy continues to balance the interests of all creditors, including debtors, creditors, vendors, and employees. 

Geri Sjoquist

Geri C. Sjoquist is a staff attorney at Central Minnesota Legal Services in Minneapolis. Her practice has focused on all aspects of family law and civil litigation. 

The person I would most like to have dinner with would be Pauli Murray. She (her own reference to herself) was a queer non-binary black person, a writer, a professor, a lawyer, a poet, a priest, a human rights activist—and she was left-handed to boot! She faced bias and discrimination at every turn and yet, although she struggled with depression, she never compromised her values or conformed and got in line, no matter how many times someone tried to put her in her place. She was not inclined to attempt to twist herself into a pretzel to fit into her assigned role or station in life. It did not occur to her that she should be anyone other than her authentic self. 

Pauli thought of the issues of bias and discrimination as systemic. This orientation greatly pleases me because I am a sociologist at heart. For example, I have a disability. I know that my experiences as an attorney seeking an accommodation under Title II of the ADA have been atrocious. I think of my struggles to practice law on a level playing field as symptoms of our ableist society. 

Pauli wrote an article titled “Jane Crow and the Law” that was very influential to lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s equal protection arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. And Thurgood Marshall used many of Pauli’s ideas to form his arguments in Brown v. Board of Education. 

When my daughter and I first moved to Minnesota in 1998, there was a church we attended in Minneapolis called Spirit of the Lakes. I so loved that church. I think Pauli would have attended there. We were warmly welcomed without conditions. There were many LGBTQ+ people who attended. I brought my daughter to that church because it seemed to me that the people who attended there were some of the most courageous and beautiful people I had ever met. 

Pauli Murray died in 1985 at 75. I get emotional thinking about her. I would love to be able to travel back in time and have dinner with her because, in my opinion, she was just an all-around badass human being. She rose up and continued on despite the many setbacks she faced. Like someone planting a tree knowing they will never see it grow to maturity, she pressed forward brick by brick, laying the groundwork for change she knew she might never witness. 

Sung Woo Hong

Sung Woo Hong is an attorney at Trott Law. He represents mortgage servicers, banks, credit unions, and investor groups in real estate finance legal work, including foreclosure, eviction, and litigation. Sung Woo received his JD from the University of Minnesota Law School. 

I would have dinner with Moses. Moses was the leader of ancient Israel who guided the Israelites out of Egypt and played a significant role in establishing a comprehensive legal system for the new nation of Israel. I want to acquire Moses’s exceptional legal skills and traits in governance. Although God Himself planned and revealed the system of the new nation, Moses alone substantialized and implemented the legal framework of an entire country by performing three powers of government. Through writing down God’s instructions, except for the 10 Commandments, Moses codified rules and regulations to be followed throughout generations. He then executed the law and regulations (See Exodus 35:1-2; Numbers 15:32-36) (executing the death penalty of someone who violated the Sabbath regulations). He also served as a judge to resolve disputes among the people of Israel and created a judicial system by appointing leaders to handle smaller cases (Exodus 18:14-26). It is worth noting his extraordinary ability to comprehend divine revelations and express them in a language understandable to humans, and even in a legal format. This required a unique combination of spirituality, intelligence, and legal and language skills. I believe that Moses could have tackled contemporary legal issues, promoting a better legal system and justice in our communities. 

In addition, I want to learn Moses’s kindness, humility, and patience. He was so caring toward his people that he initially heard people’s disputes all by himself until he took his father-in-law’s advice to delegate smaller cases to others to manage his caseload (Exodus 18:14-26). Despite being a powerful leader who spoke with God face-to-face, Moses was the most humble and meek person “on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). Moses chose to bear the burden of serving his people and never complained to God, even when they rebelled against him and God. Just as the humble are lifted up (Psalm 147:6) and exalted (Luke 18:14), Moses became one of history’s most renowned leaders. His traits are needed for representing clients, hearing parties, and promoting reconciliation in our increasingly divided society. 

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to Moses for writing God’s instructions in his five books of the Old Testament. These instructions have contributed to the foundation of American order, which I have been appreciating since I moved to the U.S. Although the political institutions in the U.S. are different from the political structure of ancient Israel, the U.S. has adopted important legal principles that are implied in the law of Moses. These principles include the idea that all true law comes from God, so that no one is above the law, not even Moses, who once disobeyed God’s instruction (See Numbers 20:7-12).  

If I could have dinner with Moses, I would not mind eating manna and quails with him in his tent to ask him to mentor me. 

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