Andrew Danielson was an aviator before becoming a lawyer, a judge and a federal prosecutor, and the veteran Minnesota jurists who admired his skills say his work in those tense jobs always showed the calm and steady hand of a pilot.
“He was fair, firm and cognizant of the people that came before him and the circumstances that may have affected their lives,” said Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, a public defender early in his career who later worked alongside Danielson. “You knew you were going to get a fair shake.”
Danielson died of heart failure on Oct. 17 while visiting the south shore of Lake Superior with a friend. He was 84.
Danielson’s path to the bench followed many years of being up in the air. A St. Paul native who later moved to Minneapolis, Danielson earned a commission to the U.S. Marine Corps out of the NROTC unit at the University of Minnesota. He spent 24 years in regular and reserve service, on land and aircraft carriers, before retiring in 1992.
In between, Danielson returned to the U for law school and later spent three years flying for Northwest Airlines. He began his law career at Larkin Hoffman before his first appointment to the Hennepin County bench in 1971. As U.S. attorney from 1976 to 1979, Danielson took over from a well-liked top prosecutor who had run the office for eight years. But it didn’t take long for him to gain the trust of the office, said Senior U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery, then an assistant U.S. attorney.
“Perhaps one of the qualities that came from piloting was his calm under stress,” Montgomery said. “He was widely respected among lawyers, who modeled themselves after him.”
Thomas Berg, a Minneapolis attorney who succeeded Danielson as U.S. attorney in 1980, said Danielson left the office in strong shape and “made it nonpartisan as that office should be and hopefully still is.” Danielson returned to the bench in 1988, serving until his retirement in 2002.
“He was smarter than most judges and had a lot of courtroom experience,” said Joe Friedberg, a veteran Twin Cities lawyer. “He brought that to bear as a judge. I never heard anyone complain about drawing Judge Danielson.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter, a Hennepin County prosecutor from 1992 to 2002, said it wasn’t difficult to see how Danielson’s experience as a federal prosecutor helped inform his approach upon returning to the state court bench.
“To me he stood out amongst the many good judges there as being exceedingly patient and fair,” Winter said. “He dealt with the craziness of state court, the volume of its cases. He handled them masterfully.”
Hennepin County District Judge Kevin Burke was also among those who first encountered Danielson while a private attorney in his courtroom. He said Danielson later united judges of multiple ideological stripes who sought his counsel through the years. Danielson’s return to the bench after his years as a federal prosecutor and private attorney spoke to a zeal for public service, Burke said.
“I think as an advocate, as a lawyer, you try your best to seek justice and there’s going to be times you leave the courtroom disappointed with the results,” Burke said.
“If you’re a good judge, you should never have that feeling. You get to make the right decision on the right outcome, and with that comes a lot of responsibility. You’ve got to be careful about emotions, you’ve got to be open and be careful about prejudging people. I think Andy had all those qualities.”
Danielson is survived by his wife of 62 years, Vonne; three sons, Scott, Jeff and Jim, and seven grandchildren. Services were held Friday.