Obituary: Dorsey & Whitney's Roger Magnuson at 68

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 4, 2013 - 7:03 PM

Roger Magnuson was a Twin Cities lawyer-educator-preacher with lofty academic credentials and a diverse résumé that included finding himself embroiled in the Bush vs. Gore election litigation.

Over a 40-year career with Dorsey & Whitney law firm, he was involved in high-profile cases that included representing the Florida Senate in the Bush vs. Gore election controversy, a victory for his clients in a Mall of America ownership case, and his representation of the Minnesota Twins in a dispute over whether the baseball team was obligated to keep playing at the Metrodome.

He died Nov. 30 from melanoma. He was 68.

As a partner in the firm, he was involved actively in his last trial until October, when his declining health prevented him from carrying on. That trial resulted in a $6.1 million award for people who had been victimized by their financial adviser.

“Roger was a phenomenon with a profound love for the practice of law and for the firm he called home,” managing partner Ken Cutler told Dorsey & Whitney employees in announcing his death.

Magnuson’s religious convictions played a significant role in his life and often melded with his profession. He was one of the founders of the California-based Oak Brook College of Law in 1994 and was its first dean. The online law school provides education and training “in the context of a Biblical and historical framework.” He was the author of the book “Are Gay Rights Right?” which argued that sexual orientation is not entitled to constitutional protections.

He also founded the Straitgate Church, a nondenominational Christian church at Park and Franklin avenues in Minneapolis. A son, James Magnuson, recalled that his father started the church after discovering that there was a waiting list for more than two dozen children to become members at another church.

“He had an amazing intensity and determination to succeed in what he did, but he mixed that with a real caring nature,” James Magnuson said. “He didn’t climb over people. He was available to the homeless person to help them out; from that to dealing with people at the highest levels of our government.”

James and another son, Peter, are both attorneys.

Roger James Magnuson was born in St. Paul. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1967 from Stanford University, where he was Phi Beta Kappa, and a juris doctorate 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 Corp. After law school, he studied as a Knox fellow for a year at Magdalen College at Oxford University in England, and received a bachelor of civil law degree. He joined Dorsey & Whitney in 1973.

Chambers International Guide to American Lawyers described Magnuson’s skills as “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 1 percent of American lawyers.

He is survived by his wife, Betsy; his children, James, Peter, Kerstin, Sarah Van Sistine, Libby, Anna, Jed and Britta; a grandson, Lars Roger, and sisters Marty Quam and Ruth Whitcomb.

Visitation is 4 to 8 p.m. Friday. The funeral service is 10 a.m. Saturday. Both are at Straitgate Church, Park and Franklin in Minneapolis.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434

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