From his new office on the 13th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, looking northeast over City Hall’s copper roof, Frank Magill can just barely see his old office on the sixth floor of the Minneapolis Federal Courthouse. Magill’s move from the U.S. Attorney’s Office to Hennepin County District Court is more than a vertical office space improvement of seven stories. It is a professional move into new territory that will bring new challenges and unforeseen rewards.
Magill is enthused to try something new in part because his wife made a considerable career move from being in the U.S. Attorney’s Office to being an in-house lawyer for Honeywell.
“Watching her go through a new challenge and learning a new area of the law was exciting,” said Magill.
Magill is now making a transition himself, self-aware about what he does and doesn’t know.
“I’ll know more once I get there,” said Magill. “First and foremost, I think the volume of cases of people charged are going to be astronomical compared to what I’ve been dealing with in the federal system and I think that will be an adjustment. I think that will be the initial challenge out of the box. How do you get used to that huge volume?”
In 2009, over 800,000 cases passed through the Hennepin County District Court compared to just over 300 in the U.S. District Court-District of Minnesota.
Though the volume of cases will be dramatically different, making big decisions is something Magill is familiar with from being a federal prosecutor.
“Simply opening a matter on an individual can have grave consequences for them even if the case goes nowhere. And so that, in and of itself, is a pretty important decision,” said Magill.
Issuing grand jury subpoenas or target letters; determining appropriate charges; or determining the just resolution when entering a plea agreement are significant decisions Magill has had to make.
Magill’s work in the U.S. Attorney’s Office began in May 1990. When he first started, the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not have sections so he prosecuted every type of case.
After five years, Magill began working on white-collar crime exclusively, due largely in part to a law called FIRREA (Financial Institutions Reform Recovery Enforcement Act), which was passed in the wake of the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s. One of the aspects of the law was that it funded specific prosecutor positions.
“I was actually brought in to be sort of a ‘FIRREA’ lawyer,” said Magill. “When I came in they expected me, after I got a broad range of experience, to move into white-collar crime and that’s what happened.”
Magill majored in accounting at Georgetown University and worked for an accounting firm before attending law school, which made him well-suited to eventually serve as the chief of the Economic Crimes Section and as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota when charges were filed in one of the largest fraud cases in Minnesota history, the Tom Petters case.
“The Petters case did come in the door when I was U.S. Attorney and that was a very high profile case that was very important for the community,” said Magill.
Magill’s ascension to the top post in his office was not through a presidential appointment, which is usually the case. After Rachel Paulose’s departure in late 2007, Magill was eventually appointed to serve as U.S. Attorney through various temporary appointments and court orders.
“My goal was basically to get the office in good shape to pass it on to the next presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney and try and do what I could to get the office on a solid footing for when we had a new U.S. Attorney,” said Magill.
After B. Todd Jones was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in the summer of 2009, Magill was appointed by Jones to serve as Counsel to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota.
“I was the first U.S. Attorney ‘counsel,’” said Magill. In this capacity, Magill served as the legal advisor to the office for office-wide legal issues. One example is discovery policy, where Magill was very involved in developing a Brady-Giglio policy for the office.
Magill’s variety of perspectives in the U.S. Attorney’s Office should serve him well as a judge. Many current and former members of the Hennepin County bench worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office before arriving on the bench, including the Hon. Denise Reilly, Hon. William Koch, Hon. Robert Small, and Hon. Susan Burke.
Magill’s father, Frank Magill Sr., was a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and was a strong influence in Magill’s career path.
From a very young age Magill watched his father as a lawyer in court.
“The earliest case I remember was a case involving Burlington Northern because he represented the railroad. I don’t remember the specifics. I was probably 10 years old,” said Magill. “It was in state court. I did behave myself. Proper decorum at all times.”
Magill grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, and attended Shanley High School where he played tennis and hockey. He also joined the school’s very first debate team.
After high school, Magill headed east to Georgetown University in Washington D.C., but that wasn’t his first time to the nation’s capital. Magill’s grandparents lived in Arlington, Virginia, so D.C. was a frequent stop on family vacations.
“By the time I got to Georgetown, I had been to the Washington Monument four or five times,” said Magill. Magill’s father and some of his siblings also attended Georgetown for law school or undergraduate studies; Magill and his father attended Georgetown for both.
After law school, Magill decided to move back to the Midwest to Minneapolis.
“I loved living in D.C., but I really didn’t want to practice law in D.C.,” said Magill. “I thought there were too many lawyers and it was just too much of a ‘lobbyist political environment.’ I really didn’t want that type of practice.”
Magill accepted a job offer with Dorsey and Whitney, where he practiced commercial civil litigation and a small amount of white-collar criminal defense.
Magill was at the Dorsey firm a little under five years before moving on to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
While at Dorsey, Magill participated in a program that allowed him to prosecute misdemeanors for the City of Minneapolis for three months.
“I went through that program so I got some familiarity with how that all worked,” said Magill. “Where, you know, you show up; there is a big huge calendar, everybody there; you’re looking at the file for the first time; and maybe you’re going to trial that day without having met your witnesses; you get assigned to a judge and you go to that courtroom and you could be in trial.”
Coming from outside of the Hennepin County system, Magill’s brief stint prosecuting misdemeanors will be a helpful experience to draw upon. Magill also watched a number of district court appearances while applying for the judgeship.
Despite his heavy background in the federal system, Magill maintains that his expectations in the courtroom will not be affected.
“I want [the bar] to know I am a very hard working judge and I am going to try and fit in over at Hennepin County and not try and turn Hennepin County into the federal system,” said Magill.
Having limited exposure to the Hennepin County system can also be seen as an attribute for Magill.
“I can bring a fresh look to some things. I haven’t participated in the system, I don’t know the public defenders really well. I don’t really know other prosecutors, so I just sort of come in with a clean slate, which I think can be an advantage,” said Magill. “We’ll see how that plays out.”