Retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug will rejoin the Fredrikson & Byron Minneapolis law firm Nov. 1 in a part-time, senior role that will focus on corporate and government investigations and complex litigation, the law firm announced Thursday.
Lillehaug, who retired from the high court on July 31 after a diagnosis of early Parkinson’s disease, will also focus on administrative law at Fredrikson & Byron but will mainly serve as a senior counsel representing clients within its business litigation department. The former U.S. attorney will also serve from time to time as “a special master” to judges overseeing litigation and as an occasional arbitrator and mediator.
He said he is looking forward to the firm’s pro bono work and training work as well as re-engaging in litigation.
“I’m delighted to return to Fredrikson, a firm where lawyers practice with sophistication and integrity. Interesting legal matters have always found me, and Fredrikson and I are ready for them,” Lillehaug said Thursday.
Fredrikson & Byron President John Koneck approached Lillehaug, 66, after he had left the high court about returning to the firm. The Minneapolis-based firm has offices in Bismarck and Fargo, N.D.; Mankato, St. Paul and Des Moines; Saltillo, Mexico, and Shanghai.
Lillehaug’s part-time schedule should allow him the time for the physical exercises required to keep his health in check.
His Parkinson’s is in the early stages and controlled by medicine, he said.
Lillehaug said he decided to retire from the high court after it became apparent that the long hours required at the court meant he could not maintain the exercise regimen needed to keep his strength, balance and motor skills sharp. He starts the new job with the blessing of his doctors.
The job will be on a “one-third” basis, which will alleviate his prior scheduling concerns, Lillehaug said.
He plans to convert a bedroom in his home into an office before he begins his new duties Nov. 1. Since COVID largely shut down in-person court business in the spring, Lillehaug has been working from a home study. He will work with clients remotely during the pandemic.
Koneck said he was pleased to have Lillehaug back and praised his “excellent judgment,” “strategic vision” and that fact that he had “one of the most notable legal careers in Minnesota history.”
The South Dakota native was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and served until 1998.
He worked at the 300-attorney Fredrikson & Byron from 2002 until he was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 2013. He served on the high court until July 31, 2020, which he called one of the highest honors of his life.
During his time on the Supreme Court, Lillehaug sat on more than 600 cases and rendered 140 opinions. The cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School said he was pleased with his work, including leading the charge for the state Supreme Court to give higher deference to orders coming out of Indian Tribal Courts. The state previously gave such decisions lower deference, which often resulted in tribal court decisions being ignored and cases being re-litigated in state courts, he said.
During his years in private practice, Lillehaug was retained at different times by three Minnesota tribes — the Mille Lacs Band of Objibwe, the Leech Lake Band of Objibwe and the White Earth Nation— to ensure the proper legal handling of select housing funds, property purchases and other matters.
He noted that Fredrikson and Byron does business-development work on behalf of Native entrepreneurs. “I may get plugged into that” as part of the pro bono work he plans to pursue.
Lillehaug’s interest in Native American affairs developed as a child when his family would go fishing near reservations in South Dakota and pass by children begging and families living in cars. He made a commitment to help improve conditions for Native American families in poverty.
Lillehaug served on the U.S. Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on white-collar crime and on its Native American Issues Subcommittee in the 1990s.
During his time on the state Supreme Court, he acted as the court’s liaison to Minnesota’s tribal courts and to the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board.