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Kathryn Quaintance and Brad Colbert sit on opposite sides of the law. She’s the deputy chief prosecutor in Minneapolis. He’s a Minnesota state public defender and codirector of the Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners program. She puts criminals away. He gets them off. But they both miss Ross, her brother and his best friend from law school. Even as they have prospered in their profession, they occasionally ponder his death and their loss. In 1998, as Colbert was preparing to argue his first case before the U.S. Supreme Court, he recalled his bar study sessions with Ross. He regrets that Ross wasn’t around to share the experience. While Quaintance waits at counsel’s table for a jury to return a verdict, she sometimes thinks of Ross and is overcome with a sense that there is an “overarching mission to life.” Ross didn’t have the paper credentials that young lawyers often mistake for expertise. He didn’t edit the law review, hold a degree from a school of pedigree, or secure a federal clerkship. But he had an abundance of charisma and character and an unbending sense of fairness. “People liked him,” Colbert says. Jurors would have believed him. I met Ross in 1965, when we were boys. He’d just moved onto the block and introduced himself by grabbing me in a headlock and throwing me to the ground. It was the start of a 20-year friendship that survived more than a few dim-witted moments during adolescence and 1,200 miles separating us as young adults. In high school Ross almost single-handedly founded the soccer team. The athletic director, who was also the football coach, didn’t want another fall sports team diverting talent from the gridiron. Ross pulled an end run and argued his case before the board of education directly. I should have known then that he would be drawn to the law. (Perhaps his fascination with “Serpico” and “The French Connection” gave him away earlier.) Ross entered William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul with an eye toward public service. He clerked in the local prosecutor’s office and worked for a public defender. His school’s law review published a note Ross wrote on whether Minnesota law adequately protected juveniles who waived their right to counsel. Ross never got to see it in print. Shortly after taking the bar exam in summer of 1985, Ross went camping with a friend in the Canadian Rockies. The trip was a brief respite between his graduation and his new job as a county prosecutor in Minneapolis. Returning late at night, Ross fell asleep in the back of their truck. A car cut in front of them from a side road, and the two vehicles collided. The other car’s driver fled on foot and was later charged with drunk driving. The driver of Ross’s truck was unscathed. But Ross was left paralyzed below his shoulders. He was transported by helicopter to Minnesota, where I saw him a few days after the accident. He was attached to a ventilator, and his bed rotated from side to side so that his lungs would not fill with fluids. It was a surreal sight. Ross’s energy and passion still burned in his eyes, but not in his body. Ross died 18 days after the crash, 15 years ago this month. He was 27. I sometimes wonder: Would Ross have stayed in public service? Or would he have parlayed the trial experience he gained as a prosecutor into a job defending tobacco companies? Would he still be the same plain-talking person I remember, or would he be engaging in Clintonian distortions of language, logic, and meaning? Many young lawyers enter the profession with good intentions but then lose sight of what drew them to the law. Law school debts, mortgages, and pre-school tuitions have a sobering way of altering one’s job trajectory. We each have our own memories of Ross. But Brad, Kathryn, and I all share the belief that he would have kept his ideals intact as he aged. Brad remembers his friend as frugal and without a care for the pretense or material rewards of private practice. Ross’s family was steeped in the Episcopal church, drawn to left-liberal causes, fueled by late-night political argument, and obsessed with Watergate. “Public service was glamorized growing up,” says Kathryn. Kathryn graduated from law school a year after Ross’s death. A former New York actress, she didn’t initially land a prosecutor’s job in Minnesota, so she accepted a job at what is now Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi. “I thought, ‘Maybe this will work for me,’ ” she says. Three-and-a-half years later, she joined the same office where her brother had clerked and was about to have begun to work. She’s since compiled a trial record of 50 wins against fewer than five losses. Occasionally, remnants of her brother’s clerkship — a memo or workbook he wrote — bring his shortened life back into sight. Kathryn and I talked about these things over the July Fourth weekend, children yelling in the background on both ends of the phone conversation. When her first child was born, she gave him the middle name of Ross. So did I. And so did Brad.

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