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WP: Judge Has Reputation As A Master Mediator

Mark The Homer

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The issue polarized the greater Minneapolis community and attracted national headlines: should two gay teenagers be allowed to walk as a couple in their high school’s royalty court? School administrators said no. In late January, the girls sued.

Just a month into her tenure on the federal bench, Susan Richard Nelson handled the dispute by making sure it never got into a court room. She surprised the girls and school officials by inviting them into her chambers on a Saturday for an unsolicited mediation.

After more than six hours of talks, the teens agreed to drop the lawsuit. Two days later, they walked together in the royalty court.

“The whole day I will look back on with such gratitude, the way she approached it,” said Dennis Carlson, superintendent of the Anoka-Hennepin schools, who participated in the settlement conference in the largely vacant downtown courthouse. “Dignity and grace come to mind.”


“How Judge Nelson decides the fundamental issue, which is whether or not to enjoin the lockout, is going to affect enormously the collective bargaining leverage on both sides,” said Gary Roberts, the dean of the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis. “However she rules is going to set the table for negotiations that, I’m convinced, will lead to an agreement sometime in late summer.”

The players will score a major victory if Nelson grants their request for a preliminary injunction to lift the lockout. They could return to work while the owners, who would almost surely appeal, would confront the possibility of more grim anti-trust rulings from her.

The owners’ position, meantime, would be strengthened by an extended lockout, which could destroy players’ morale as their wallets grow lighter. The lockout would remain in place if Nelson decides in favor of the owners or abides by an NFL request to defer to the National Labor Relations Board.

Roberts said Nelson also could try to come up with a “clever ruling” intended to bruise both sides in a calculated attempt to shepherd everyone back to negotiations, which, unless the litigation were withdrawn, would take place with her guidance.

Nelson’s background suggests she might press for settlement talks sooner than later, but it offers little hint about which side she might favor in the short term. Colleagues and attorneys said Nelson’s ability to broker deals is surpassed only by her reputation for even-handedness in the court room. A review of many of Nelson’s major cases over the last decade shows no clear trend or political bent.

Despite a dearth of experience as a U.S. district court judge, Nelson, who was appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate just over three months ago, has attracted legions of devotees after 17 years as a prominent trial lawyer and 10 as a U.S. magistrate judge--a role that called for her to strongly encourage parties to settle their disputes. Magistrate judges assist federal district judges by handling certain proceedings.

Even attorneys Nelson has ruled against describe her as a mild-tempered, measured, thoughtful judge who inevitably leaves both sides believing they received a full hearing and a fair shake.

University of Minnesota Provost Tom Sullivan co-chaired a committee that considered more than 100 people for the judicial vacancy Nelson filled.

“She just stood out without question. She was head and shoulders above everyone else,” said Sullivan, who had never met Nelson before the search. “. . . All the way along, everyone was confirming and reaffirming her sterling reputation and ability.”

Nelson earned a unanimous “well qualified” rating, the highest possible, from the American Bar Association committee that reviewed her qualifications for the judgeship. Robert Weinstine, an attorney who led a panel that reviewed whether Nelson should receive a second eight-year term as a magistrate judge in 2008, said his group received only one complaint about Nelson.

“One thing [the attorneys] all loved was trying cases, and she settled too many,” Weinstine said with a laugh. “I’ve practiced law for 40 years, and she’s the best settlement judge I’ve ever appeared in front of.”

Nelson ruled against Jim Nikolai, an attorney with the Minneapolis firm Nikolai and Mersereau, in a 2007 patent infringement action that eventually was settled. Yet he also described her as an “excellent” judge.

“Her opinions, while I don’t always agree with them – particularly when she finds against me — are always thoughtful,” Nikolai said. “She’s thoughtful in her approach and thorough in her analysis.”


“She’s unflappable,” Ciresi said. “She doesn’t let people get to her.”

Ciresi also said: “There’s no game that could be played that she wouldn’t be able to discern. She is tough but temperate and compassionate, and she has a great intellect. . . There is nothing about the NFL case that is going to faze her.”


Roberts feels certain the case will be settled eventually. The only question is when, and whether Nelson will push the issue.

“Irony aside, federal mediators aside, if anyone on earth could settle this thing,” Weinstine said, “it’s probably Judge Nelson.”

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Let's hope the judge can broker some type of deal. I really don't care what the deal is. Just something, and soon. I'm tired of this ****.

In other news, the draft is this month! And the 'Skins can't trade AH or DM for picks! Because the damn belly aching by a bunch of rich people.

Boo Hiss.

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