Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Endowed Chair To Honor Justice
By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
The overflow crowd packing Popejoy Hall for the late Justice Pamela Minzner's 2007 memorial service offered one clue to the love and esteem the legal community had for her.
Now there's another: Even during a down economy in a not-so-prosperous state, organizers planning an endowed chair in her name at the University of New Mexico School of Law have raised all but about $40,000 of the $1.5 million required.
And in record time.
The Legislature gave $700,000, provided there was a private match. So far, 36 New Mexico law firms have donated more than $467,000, and almost 400 individuals members of the judiciary, friends, former law clerks, UNM faculty and members of the legal community have given $276,588. Corporations and foundations have kicked in, too.
The push is now on for the final contributions, likely to come in small amounts, to ensure the first chair can be hired for the 2010-2011 academic year.
Minzner, whose legal career was nurtured at Harvard Law School and included long tenure at the University of New Mexico School of Law, the New Mexico Court of Appeals and the New Mexico Supreme Court, lost a long battle with cancer Aug. 31, 2007.
"I would describe her as beloved by anyone who worked for her or with her or was her student," said Albuquerque trial lawyer Randi McGinn. "She just treated everyone so well. She's the kind of person who never had a bad word about anyone."
Minzner learned the names of every new student, not just those in her class, by poring over student rosters before the first day of class.
McGinn wandered into Minzner's class, only to be told, "You're not in this class, Ms. McGinn" and pressed the professor afterwards about how she did it.
As a judge, McGinn said, "She asked probing questions and tried to do the right thing."
As a colleague and mentor, she wrote hundreds of thank-you notes and congratulatory notes.
Although aggressive advocacy is the skill most prized in trial work, McGinn said Minzner "was a tempering force for nonaggressiveness in our bar. ... She set the example that you don't have to be a jerk to do well in the law."
The Pamela B. Minzner chair will be awarded to a professor who exemplifies professionalism. "Pamela would say professionalism is lawyers doing the right thing for right's sake," said her husband, former state Rep. Dick Minzner, a lawyer and lobbyist at the Rodey law firm.
"It is the things that you do dealing with your client or opposing clients not because you're going to be disciplined should you fail to do it. It's the sort of thing we would call ethics before we went to law school and learned there are these canons of ethics you can be disbarred for not doing."
In lay terms, he said, professionalism is problem-solving without running up the costs of litigation. It's not hiding the ball. It's dealing with all lawyers as if they'd been a law school roommate.
McGinn said the chair is the perfect way to pay tribute to Pam Minzner.
"She was such a generous spirit, always thinking about others always, always, always."