Originally published in the November/December 1992 issue.
Author: Thomas L. Johnson
What do the Minnesota Judicial Merit Commission and central casting have in common? Both could easily recommend Dan Mabley for a "position" as a judge.
In fact, Dan Mabley is the newly appointed Hennepin County district court judge. And he was recommended by the Merit Commission, which must have thought he had devoted his career to fulfilling the Commission’s evaluation criteria. Not so, but with the same result: Dan Mabley is eminently qualified to be a judge. And, if you were to consult the folks at central casting, they would also say he is qualified, albeit for different reasons.
Let’s start with the Commission’s criteria. By statute, the Commission is required to examine such factors as an applicant’s legal knowledge, ability and experience, diligence, integrity and judicial temperament. Dan matches up about as well as possible.
Legal Knowledge/Education: Dan graduated cum laude from Carleton College with a degree in government and international relations. It was at Carleton that his interest in law school was piqued by a course in constitutional law. Dan followed through, obtaining a juris doctor from the University of Minnesota in 1974.
By 1981 Dan was back at school, but this time as an adjunct professor in trial advocacy at William Mitchell College of Law. Dan continues to teach and receives outstanding reviews from his students and from Jon Sonsteng, a well-known professor of trial skills at the college. Jon describes Dan as a "wonderful teacher who shares his knowledge in a gentle, thoughtful manner that helps students develop to their fullest potential."
Ability and Experience: Dan’s legal career includes a short stint in a small general practice law firm, and three different public law offices. Dan worked for three years in the St. Paul City Attorney’s office prosecuting misdemeanors. He then moved to the Dakota County Attorney’s office where he started that office’s economic crime prosecution program in addition to handling a regular felony case load.
In 1981 Dan was hired by the Hennepin County Attorney’s office. His first assignment was to develop an arson prosecution program. He did, with great success. An Arson Investigation and Prosecution Manual, written by Dan, was distributed widely throughout the state. During this time Dan also handled many successful arson prosecutions, with his conviction of Marjorie Caldwell Hagen being viewed as a masterful achievement. The combination of the Manual and successful prosecutions put Dan on the speaker’s circuit both locally and nationally: he is, to this day, recognized as a national expert on arson.
In 1991 Dan was appointed chief of the criminal division in the Hennepin County Attorney’s office and held that position until his judicial appointment. It "capped" Dan’s extraordinarily successful career as a prosecutor.
Diligence: Dan’s many successes prosecuting white-collar crime is a testament to his diligence. But perhaps the best illustration of this characteristic is Dan’s successful prosecution of Leonard Richards. Mr. Richards is accused of murdering his half-sister, Mae Wilson, as part of a colossal insurance fraud scheme. He has also been convicted, twice, of murdering his lawyer, Robert Stratton. Dan handled the re-trial in the Stratton case with Leonard Richards representing himself. The trial lasted five months, and involved hundreds of exhibits and endless verbal outbursts by Mr. Richards. But Dan persevered. The jury returned a guilty verdict after a very short deliberation.
Integrity and Judicial Temperament: No one describes Dan’s temperament and integrity in other than glowing terms. Perhaps, though, Tom Frost’s description captures it best: "Dan is incredibly patient, as perhaps best exemplified by the Leonard Richards trial. With respect to his personal integrity, it is never an issue. Dan brings absolute integrity to everything he does." (Tom Frost is the former head of the criminal division in the Hennepin County Attorney’s office and is now the Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety.)
It should now be clear why the Judicial Selection Commission recommended Dan Mabley for a judgeship. But how does central casting fit in?
Dan Mabley is not an actor, nor has he any plans to become one. He has, however, extensive experience as a model, often appearing in advertisements as a doctor or as an attorney, and in one advertisement for malpractice insurance, as both!
Dan’s talent in front of a camera would get central casting’s attention. So, too, would his talents outside the courtroom. We all know that not every judge is an avid golfer or tennis player; it’s just that central casting believes this to be true. But Dan Mabley needs no stand-in to act the part of a tennis-playing judge. Until recently, he carried a sectional ranking in the Norwest section of the U.S. Tennis Association. In addition, to cool off after five months in court with Leonard Richards, Dan took up wind-surfing and, predictably enough, he is now a highly skilled wind-surfer. Central casting would go crazy!
One might think that Dan Mabley would have a large ego. Not true. Dan’s demeanor is characterized by a disarming shyness, a shyness that he once thought would keep him out of the courtroom. In fact, his law school experience was marked by "a desire to hide under the closest desk; I certainly knew I didn’t want to be called upon."
Dan married Cindi Claypatch-Mabley in 1988. Without realizing it, Dan had been helping to keep Cindi "in business" before they ever met. Cindi is a chemical dependency counselor, and some of the defendants that Dan convicted were referred to Cindi for counseling. Dan has a son, Donnie, who is 14.
As with his many professional successes, Dan attributes his marriage to Cindi as "a matter of luck." Yet luck was not with Dan the week of his wedding, when an advertisement for comforters came out in several local and national magazines. The advertisement showed Dan in bed with a woman model and two children. The incident demonstrated Dan’s capacity to make a quick, judicial-like decision: He ended his modeling career immediately!
A couple of closing notes by the author. I worked with Dan Mabley for over ten years. I know him well. Dan is many things: intelligent, innovative and deeply committed to public service. But above all else, he is a decent human being who treats everyone he meets with kindness and respect. There should be no doubt that he will make an excellent judge.