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A. James Dickinson

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Beloved jurist Dickinson dies of pancreatic cancer at 67

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER
  • Star Tribune
  • November 22, 2008 - 12:13 AM

Colleagues and friends of retired Ramsey County District Judge A. James Dickinson were as generous and kind with their comments after his death Friday as the judge himself was with the people who stood before him in court.

Dickinson was a jurist in Minnesota's second-busiest court for almost 11 years before he retired Jan. 1, 2008. He died at his home in St. Paul after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 67.

District Judge Margaret (Peg) Marrinan called him "a gentleman of the old school -- courtly, gentle, kind and a fine judge."

Chief District Judge Kathleen Gearin said, "He was a great judge but more importantly, a wonderful, dignified and kind man."

Gearin was at a Judicial Council meeting with judges from around the state when she learned of Dickinson's death and a minute of silence was taken in his honor, the chief judge wrote in an e-mail to colleagues.

She later talked about a visit she'd made to Dickinson's home a little more than a week ago.

"He continued to remain interested in what's going on in the courts and the people in the court system and how what we do affects people," she said.

Dickinson was "all excited" because he had recently gotten to see his youngest son, a law student, make an argument before the Court of Appeals.

"He was incredible," Gearin said of Dickinson. "To visit with him was kind of inspiring. He was at peace."

Dickinson was "true St. Paul," said District Judge Michael DeCourcy.

"He looked for the good in everybody," DeCourcy said. "I would just sit and I would marvel at his even-handedness and his unflappability."

Dickinson was educated at St. Paul Academy, earned his undergraduate degree from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., in 1962 and his law degree at the University of Minnesota Law School in 1965. He practiced at the Stringer & Rohleder law firm from 1966 to 1997, where he was a civil trial attorney and had a general practice.

Gov. Arne Carlson appointed him to the Second Judicial District bench on April 17, 1997. The two were longtime friends and fierce squash players.

"If you were a Hollywood caster, you would cast him as a judge," Carlson said Friday. "He had the perfect temperament. Always immensely fair, a good listener, paid attention to what other people said."

Dickinson and his family loved getting away to their home on Madeline Island, off the south shore of Lake Superior. He was a golfer as well as a squash player and a member and director of many professional organizations.

Colleagues spoke Friday about how much they will miss him, how much he loved being a judge and how he spoke openly and honestly about his disease.

"He was sort of heroic about how open he was about what he was going through," said Harry Neimeyer, a colleague at Stringer & Rohleder and a longtime friend.

Dickinson's survivors include his wife, Alice; sons A. James Jr. and Charles; daughters Susan and Mary, and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Nov. 29.

Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551

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