Health Law Section Gives Lifetime Achievement Awards


(from left) Jack Breviu, Margo Struthers, Patricia Sonnenberg, John E. Diehl, and Barbara Tretheway. 

At its final meeting of the 2018-19 bar year, the MSBA Health Law Section recognized five amazing attorneys with Lifetime Achievement Awards. The award was created this year to recognize an exceptional class of retiring health law attorneys who have made significant contributions to the practice area during their careers. Over 100 attorneys attended the May 31 lunch on a beautiful day at the Town & Country Club. Many of those recognized began practicing health law before it was known as health law. All have had a significant impact on our community and on the attorneys they have mentored. Below is a brief summary of the contributions of each.


Jack Breviu

Jack Breviu recently retired from a long and influential career as a health care attorney. He served as an assistant attorney general for nearly 20 years and as general counsel of United Healthcare for seven years, and he spent nearly 20 years in private practice with Stinson LLP. Most importantly, he left a legacy of attorneys and clients to whom he provided invaluable guidance and mentorship. In addition to his practice, Jack provided leadership and service to the Children's Law Center and served on the Community-University Health Care Center (CUHCC) Board. Jack was a frequent lecturer on health law matters and served as an adjunct professor of health law at William Mitchell College of Law. When asked to comment on Jack's career, his former client Mary Maertens, chief executive officer of Avera-Marshall Regional Medical Center, had this to say:

Jack has had an exceptional career. He is an expert in his field, [with a] pragmatic and commonsensical approach seasoned with a one-of-a-kind sense of humor. He is a wonderful friend, mentor, and confidant. Irreplaceable in the field of health law.

Jack will be spending his retirement in Minnesota with his wife Linda, making frequent trips to the North Shore and spending lots of time with children and grandchildren. His intellect, keen judgment, and good humor will be missed in the halls of Stinson and in the bar at large.

John E. Diehl

One might assume that if a person shows up day after day for 50 years, he might be able to accomplish something, and so it has been with John Diehl. Through the private practice of law, public service, and civic involvement, he has been a change agent in the healthcare system in Minnesota and around the country.

In the policy arena, John Diehl developed the laws to authorize and regulate health maintenance organizations, thus establishing the format for a structured, vertically integrated healthcare system—the predicate for our current system and the future of healthcare delivery. Perhaps even more significantly, in 1975 he “invented” the “assigned risk pool” strategy that made affordable individual health insurance available to persons with preexisting conditions who could not buy insurance.

There is a maxim that great lawyers are a product of great clients, so Mr. Diehl is justifiably proud that his private practice clientele has included the Aetna Life & Casualty Co., University of Minnesota Hospitals and Clinics, the American Hospital Association, the Minnesota Hospital Association, the Minnesota Medical Association, the Mayo Clinic, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Organizations, the Hennepin County Medical Society, the Sisters of Providence, Fairview Health System, the Allina Health System, and many others.

Rural healthcare has especially benefited from Mr. Diehl’s involvement. In the 1970s he helped develop a network of specialty providers that held clinics in small towns throughout Minnesota. And, as Medicare evolved from a cost-based system, he was an advocate for critical-access hospitals. And he modified state laws to allow the mostly rural governmental hospitals to engage in cooperative ventures and other emerging structures so as to remain viable players in our evolving system.

John also designed, developed course materials, and taught “Health Law” from 1977 to 1987 (the first such course in American law schools), and throughout his career he has been a frequent lecturer for the healthcare industry and health law organizations. He has also been a healthcare system “insider,” serving as a board member (for 20 years) and chair of Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, a member of the board of the Minnesota Hospital Association, a member of the board of directors of the East Metro Medical Society Foundation, a founder and 20-year board member of the federally qualified community health center known as Open Cities, and a 20-year volunteer and board chair of the American Cancer Society.

John has also been actively involved with the development of the health law bar. In the mid-70s he was part of the group of lawyers that established an informal health law interest group (which evolved into a Hennepin County Bar Association committee), an MSBA health law committee, and, ultimately, the MSBA Health Law Section. Over the years, he  served as a member of the section governing council and as its treasurer, secretary, vice chair, program chair, and chairman.

The health law bar is characterized by the high quality of creative, ethical lawyers, who are chosen to represent these important clients. So through it all, the most interesting and rewarding aspect of his practice has been the privilege to work (and play) with many of our most outstanding lawyers. Thus, it is Mr. Diehl’s abiding pleasure to have practiced with the likes of Horace Hanson, Joe Hamilton, Jim Geraghty, Jules Hannaford, Joel Tierney, Greg Orwall, Ben Hippe, Kevin Hughes, Jack Kennefick, Bruce Hanson, Greer Lockhart, Tom Vogt, Jack Wood, Gary Davis, Fremont Fletcher, John Stone, Margo Struthers, Mike Putzier, Paul Torgerson, Jay Christianson, Pat Plunkett, Jack Brevieu, John Beattie, Todd Freeman, Kit Friedemann, Jim Platt, Jon Oviatt, Gordon Apple, Tim Johnson, Jan Halvorson, Keith Dunder, Susan Kratz, Mary Foarde, Kathy Young, David Melloh, Dan McInerney, David Feinwachs, Dick Wexler, Dave Hutchinson, Terry O’Brien, David Glazer, Steve Lokensgard, Patrick Cole and many others, who have contributed in such a positive way to our community through their diligent and effective work as lawyers.

Patricia Sonnenberg

Pat Sonnenberg first practiced health law when she joined the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. During the course of her 32 years in the AG’s Office representing the Minnesota Department of Human Services, she successfully defended the state agency’s claims for over $26 million in federal funds that had been disallowed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These cases saved state tax dollars and helped ensure there were funds to provide necessary services to needy Minnesotans. Earlier in her career, when the federal government refused to approve a state plan amendment that would allow Minnesota’s Medical Assistance (MA) program to pay Personal Care Assistants (PCAs) to accompany MA recipients whenever they ventured outside their homes, an administrative hearing on the disapproval was held in St. Paul. Pat produced a number of witnesses, including a rehabilitation physician and several recipients with disabilities, to establish that the state’s proposed expansion of PCA services was medically necessary. The hearing officer and federal agency upheld the state plan disapproval, reasoning that federal law did not allow such payments. Unbeknownst to her, though, Congressman Bruce Vento sent staff to the hearing, and subsequently ushered through an amendment to the federal Medicaid law that allows payment for PCAs to accompany Medicaid recipients whenever they go outside their homes. That amendment is now codified at 42 U.S.C. section 1396d(a)(24). 

Margo Struthers

Margo has made notable contributions to health care clients and has provided thoughtful and generous support to colleagues, including health law attorneys, students, and the MSBA Health Law Section. With her deep knowledge, experience, good sense, and intellect, Margo has provided practical and creative advice and solutions for complex matters affecting individuals, health care providers, payers, medical manufacturers, and associations.

Her interest in health law began before law school. During a time when important health laws were enacted in Minnesota, she assisted a health care lobbyist. Establishing early and deep roots, Margo learned the law, met people in the industry, including attorneys, and was well-suited to begin a legal career in which health law has been her primary focus. 

In her transactional practice, Margo often counsels clients on regulatory compliance. Her deep knowledge has also been instrumental in health care litigation, including her defense of a client in a constitutional challenge to the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Insurance Act of 1976 (a Minnesota predecessor to the Affordable Care Act) and her representation of a medical staff in a case in which the Minnesota Supreme Court, in 2014, held that medical staff bylaws can be a contract between a hospital and its medical staff. 

Generous with her time and knowledge, Margo inspired future health lawyers while teaching a seminar on fraud and abuse compliance at the U of M Law School for several years. This generosity has extended to the legal community. The MSBA has long been important to Margo, and she considers this award a great honor. In 1978, Margo received the Bench and Bar Author’s Award with a colleague. Margo has been a consistent and active supporter of the Health Law Section, serving in leadership and speaking roles that gave her the opportunity to develop deep relationships with health law colleagues. 

Barbara Tretheway

Barb Tretheway’s journey to becoming a prominent health care attorney can be attributed to gritty hard work, with a few pinches of serendipity. Growing up during a time of momentous social change in the 1960s and ‘70s, Barb was drawn to the legal profession by a simple desire to “do what’s right.” She initially worked as a paralegal in the burgeoning area of employee benefits at a law firm in Milwaukee before attending law school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (with the prodding of one of the firm’s leaders that she was smarter than the attorneys there).

During law school, Barb earned a summer clerkship with Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett in Minneapolis, and within a few years after graduating she established and was leading GPM’s health law practice. Barb saw momentous change in the health law industry during the 1990s, with legislation like the Stark Law bringing unprecedented complexity to previously unremarkable business relationships. She worked on many notable transactions during her 12 years at GPM, including the formation of the University of Minnesota Physicians medical practice group.

In 2000, Barb accepted the role of General Counsel at HealthPartners and was at the helm of its law department until her retirement in July 2019. The most fun she had as a lawyer was navigating intricate transactions that brought organizations (and their governance) together, especially when such mergers—like the behemoth HealthPartners-Park Nicollet combination in 2013—melded organizations with a shared culture, mission, and vision.

But it’s possible Barb’s most important impact on her community has little to do with her legal prowess. Barb founded and served as the executive sponsor for the HealthPartners’ award-winning Sustainability Program. The Program has received numerous national awards, including Practice Greenhealth’s System of Change Award. The Program has redirected millions of pounds of organic waste from landfills to recycling programs, and its numerous initiatives have saved the organization tens of millions of dollars. Barb personally received Practice Greenhealth’s 2019 Visionary Leader Award, underscoring the indelible mark she’s made on the legal profession and global health.