Funeral services will be held today for Melvin B. Goldberg, a law professor and former dean at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. He died Sunday at age 56 of colon cancer at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

Goldberg, of Minneapolis, earned national respect for his work in administrative and mental-health law. He also was known for his pioneering contributions to legal-aid programs.

"He's always been a passionate advocate of justice for everyone," said his son, David, of Los Angeles. "He always felt it was important to represent the people who couldn't represent themselves."

Melvin Goldberg, the son of Eastern European immigrants, became committed to helping the underdog while working in his parents' grocery store in St. Paul, his son said. Goldberg was born in Chicago but grew up in St. Paul. He graduated from University High School in Minneapolis and from the University of Minnesota. He graduated from the University of Chicago Law School.

While still in school, he started working for the Illinois Crime Commission, providing legal aid to prisoners. From 1970-72, he was executive director of the Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation.

For the next five years, Goldberg taught law at the University of Minnesota, where he directed the Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners program. The program allows supervised law students to provide civil legal services to inmates.

He established a similar program for mental health patients when he joined the teaching staff at William Mitchell College of Law in 1977. He was named a professor in 1979 and served as associate dean of academic affairs and as acting president and dean during the 1980s.

David said his father was a moral and ethical person who held a deep respect for the law. "He never had a parking ticket," David said.

In addition to David, he is survived by his wife, Paula, of Minneapolis, who is the executive director of PACER Center, and another son, Robert of Los Angeles.

Services will be held at 3 p.m. today at Adath Jeshurun Congregation, 10500 Hillside Lane, Minnetonka. Shiva will begin at 7 p.m. from today through Thursday at the Goldberg residence.