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Roger J. Magnuson, RIP

Our friend Roger J. Magnuson died over the weekend. Roger was a long-time partner at the Dorsey & Whitney law firm in Minneapolis and an unbelievably gifted lawyer and speaker. Indeed, he was a man of many gifts, including his faith, and a pillar of the many communities to which he belonged. Dorsey managing partner Ken Cutler circulated the obituary below to his colleagues yesterday. Ken’s obituary picks up several of the threads of Roger’s life. We are most grateful that Ken has given us permission to post it here:

I am deeply saddened to inform you that our partner and dear friend Roger Magnuson passed away over the weekend in St. Paul. The cause was aggressive melanoma, against which Roger had fought a valiant fight. He was 68 years old. Roger is survived by his wife, Betsy, their eight children, James, Peter, Kiki, Sarah, Libby, Anna, Jed and Britta, their daughter-in-law Tabitha (married to Peter), their son-in-law Luke (married to Sarah) and one grandchild, Lars Roger, with another on the way.

Roger was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. He received a BA degree in 1967 from Stanford University (where he was Phi Beta Kappa) and a JD degree in 1971 from Harvard University Law School (where he was a member of the board of editors of the Harvard Law Review and an officer of the Harvard Corporation). After law school, Roger studied as a Knox Fellow for a year at Magdalen College, Oxford University and received a bachelor of civil law degree. He joined Dorsey in 1973.

Over his long career at Dorsey, Roger became a litigation legend. He was the consummate trial lawyer. Like a generation of new Dorsey litigators in the 1970s, Roger jumpstarted his trial skills with a six-month stint as a Hennepin County Public Defender. Five years later, he used his criminal defense skills in representing Firm client Berkley Company in a high-profile civil and criminal customs case that included fact-finding trips to Taiwan, attorney-client privilege questions that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, a four-month trial in federal district court and a four-hour closing argument by Roger, who spoke without notes. The result was total victory: acquittal of our client on all counts.

Roger went on to many other high-profile cases over his 40-year career, including representation of the Florida Senate in the Bush v. Gore election controversy, his much studied victory in the famous Mall of America case, his representation of the Minnesota Twins and Major League Baseball and successful national litigation in federal and state court venues from New York to California and from Miami to Anchorage. His practice spanned diverse fields from shareholder and hostile takeover disputes to breach of fiduciary duty matters, First Amendment controversies, white-collar crime investigations and prosecutions, as well as a variety of other major matters. A zealous advocate to the end, Roger was involved actively in his last trial until October of this year when his declining health finally prevented him from carrying on. As part of his legacy, that trial resulted in a $6.1-million award for our clients who had been victimized by their financial adviser.

Roger was a highly sought after speaker on legal matters, both for CLEs and in media commentary. Whatever the topic, no one was a more entertaining and articulate speaker and raconteur than Roger Magnuson. He was also a prolific author. His three-volume treatise on shareholder litigation has been regularly updated since it was first published by Thomson-West in 1982. He also published major works and book chapters on white collar crime law, securities litigation and compliance strategies, whistleblowing and international litigation. His 2007 book, Barracuda Bait, revealed insights on litigation strategy learned over a lifetime of courtroom experience. In 2011, he co-authored the second edition of Advising Minnesota Corporations and Other Business Organizations.

Roger received practically every accolade, recognition and award a trial lawyer could receive. Chambers International Guide to American Lawyers called his skills “unparalleled,” and he was given top rankings by Chambers USA, Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers and LawDragon 500, which profiled him as one of the top 500 trial lawyers in America. He was a Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America (a trial lawyer honorary society composed of less than one-half of one percent of American lawyers).

In addition to being a devoted husband and father, Roger was a devout Christian. He founded the Straitgate Church in Minneapolis, where he served as a preaching elder. He also founded the Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy, a Christian law school in California that combines on-site and distance learning. Roger served as Dean and taught at OBCL.

Roger was a phenomenon with a profound love for the practice of law and for the Firm he called home. Those of us who started at Dorsey shortly after Roger fondly remember the tea times in Roger’s office where he would regale us with stories and entertain us. It was a highlight of the week for many of us. We are all richer for his incredible contributions to our profession and to Dorsey & Whitney. We will miss him dearly. We will forward memorial service information as soon as arrangements are complete.

UPDATE: Visitation will take place from 4:00-8:00 p.m. on Friday, December 6, and the funeral service will take place at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, December 7, both at Straitgate Church, Park and Franklin, Minneapolis.

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