Hamline law professor 'cared easily'

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 1, 2011 - 10:33 PM

As a young lawyer, David Cobin argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, but he saw a collaboration with Hebrew University as his greatest accomplishment.

Before he reached age 40, David Cobin argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

When a colleague asked how it felt to reach the pinnacle of his career, Cobin objected, promising the best was yet to come.

The longtime Hamline University constitutional law professor, who founded and directed a groundbreaking law partnership between Hamline and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, died May 21. He was 67.

Known for regaling his students with tales both factual and fictional, Cobin, a native of Joliet, Ill., had a reputation for sharpening the instincts and tapping the compassion of future lawyers.

"He was a person who cared easily," said Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights.

Early in his career, as a private attorney in California, Cobin often represented mental patients and active-duty servicemen, a practice that paved the path to his highest-profile case.

He argued the case of Brown v. Glines before the nation's highest court in 1980, defending the First Amendment rights of a serviceman disciplined for circulating petitions without approval from his base commander. He lost the case in a split decision.

Though students still review the case, Cobin considered the collaboration between Hamline and Hebrew University his most significant contribution.

What began as a summer course on law, religion and ethics later evolved into an exploration of conflict resolution from Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives, said his wife, Susan Cobin, a retired principal who led the Talmud Torah of St. Paul and the Twin Cities Jewish Middle School.

Their son, Seth Cobin, a criminal defense attorney, often called his father to share stories and get advice.

"That's what's been really hitting me," Seth Cobin said. "He wasn't only a father and mentor to me, he was one of my best friends."

When Seth Cobin entered Hamline's law school, the two pledged, and the university concurred, that son shouldn't enroll in dad's class. Fate had other plans. Seth Cobin ended up taking his father's constitutional law class in 2010 because he was the lone instructor for the course that semester, his final one on campus.

"It was not an easy 'A' at all," Seth Cobin said. "But I got to see firsthand why he was so popular with his students."

Shortly after graduation, David Cobin sponsored his son's admission to the Minnesota State Bar Association. He considered that semester, not the Supreme Court argument, the highlight of his 40-plus-year career, his wife said.

Two days before David Cobin's death, Hamline awarded him the $5,000 John Wesley Trustee Award, which recognizes faculty and staff members who consistently pursue rigorous scholarship, a commitment to improving the world and a focus on ethics and civility.

"To simply speak about David Cobin as a professor and as a scholar is to miss the essence of his life," Allen said in a eulogy.

Cobin planned to retire June 30 and depart for a multi-week vacation to Israel that same day.

Survivors, besides his wife and son, both of St. Paul, include a daughter, Liora Cobin of New York City, and four grandchildren. Funeral services were May 23.

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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