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Dedicated to pro bono and disability rights
The National Law Journal
Imagine being denied the right to vote because you are under supervision by a legal guardian. For an estimated 22,000 Minnesotans, that was a very real possibility before the last election, but they have Lindquist & Vennum partner Robert McLeod to thank for preserving their voting rights.
McLeod argued before Hennepin County, Minn., District Judge Jay Quam that his client, Brian Erickson, a high-functioning schizophrenic, and others with court-appointed guardians retained the right to vote. McLeod argued that language in the Minnesota Constitution holding otherwise directly violated the U.S. Constitution. Quam agreed.
"Because the United States Constitution is supreme, Mr. Erickson and others like him cannot be prevented from voting because Article VII of the Minnesota Constitution says he cannot," Quam wrote. "At least as it pertains to those under guardianship, Article VII of the Minnesota Constitution is a vestige of a bygone era. That era was one that did not recognize the many talents and capabilities of those under guardianship, including the ability of many to properly exercise the fundamental right to vote. Rather than leaving that vestige intact and with illusory vitality, it is best to declare its day to be done."
People under guardianship include the physically or mentally disabled and some veterans who are perfectly capable citizens, McLeod said. A pre-emptive ban on voting rights, he said, runs contrary to their fundamental rights.
"It acknowledges that you can't cast aside their liberties because of their classification," McLeod said of the ruling. "It doesn't mean they aren't full citizens. Persons with disability have often been in the shadows, and we for a long time have worked to protect their interests wherein they cannot speak for themselves. They are beginning to have a voice that they didn't have before."
In another case, Lindquist partner Richard Ihrig represented landowners near Iver's Mountain in Wisconsin. A mining company planned to extract basalt, but Ihrig tied up those plans so thoroughly in court that the company finally donated part of its land to a conservation trust.
Lindquist & Vennum claims 100 percent attorney participation in pro bono projects. It's a way to give back to the community, Ihrig said. "It's not an edict that comes from on high that says, 'You shall,' but rather an encouragement on all levels to be involved in pro bono legal work. It's part of our obligation and our ethos. People genuinely, rather than begrudgingly, undertake pro bono."