Originally published in the February 1999 issue.
Author: Mark Hallberg
Lawyers attending the State of the Judiciary luncheon last November were introduced to recently appointed Judge John Q. McShane and learned how this highly acclaimed trial lawyer approaches his new job on the Hennepin County District Court bench. Judge McShane was asked by Chief Judge Daniel Mabley to summarize his judicial philosophy in three minutes or less. Judge McShane rose to the challenge with concise comments, which evidenced many traits that will serve him well on the bench.
Demonstrating both humility and humor, Judge McShane commented that Gov. Arne Carlson, an avid sports fan and "expert judge of talent," obviously agreed with all of John’s former athletic team coaches that "I belong on the bench."
On a more serious note, Judge McShane explained to luncheon attendees that in preparation for his new job, he sought meetings with several groups which participate in or have an interest in the work of the Hennepin County District Court. Every interest group he met with told the new judge that a necessary quality in a good judge is respect; respect for the law, respect for the process, and, most importantly, respect for the participants. People who have known John McShane as a trial lawyer, and as a person, know that John wholeheartedly agrees. Indeed, when announcing Judge McShane’s appointment, Governor Carlson stated, "[McShane] possesses a deep sense of caring and compassion for children and the less fortunate, which will be a tremendous asset at the Hennepin County bench."
When asked about his charitable activities, Judge McShane speaks with passion and excitement. He believes that those who are blessed with abilities and resources must respond with generosity toward those who are less fortunate. He recommends that young lawyers "find a charity or organization that they believe in and get involved...the rewards [of volunteering] are many." He also speaks fondly of the people he has met working with charitable organizations and in his service on Hennepin County Bar Association committees.
John McShane has committed himself to significant charitable work. He has been an active lawyer board member of Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis, Catholic Charities, St. Joseph’s Home for Children, and Catholic Youth Camp. He volunteers time at St. Joseph’s Home for Children as a "unit friend" on a weekly basis to "hang out" with teenagers. He serves meals at Dorothy Day Homeless Shelter in St. Paul. He has even volunteered for the thankless job of fund-raising.
John McShane’s experience as a lawyer and his reputation as a premier civil trial lawyer are equally as impressive as his charitable activities. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a cum laude graduate of the St. Louis University School of Law. He was on the law review and a member of Alpha Sigma Nu and the National Jesuit Honor Society. After graduation from law school, he clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Miles Lord from 1973 to 1975.
He developed his reputation and skills as a civil trial lawyer for 10 years at the Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett law firm primarily handling products liability litigation. In 1985, John was one of the founding partners of the well-known defense firm of Bowman & Brooke, LLP, where he remained until his appointment to the bench in September 1998.
At Bowman & Brooke, John handled complex civil litigation for clients such as General Motors and Ford Motor Company. He was known as a tireless worker and a trial lawyer who had the ability to organize and present complex cases to a jury. One of John’s colleagues at Bowman & Brooke was Lezlie Ott Marek. Litigators appearing before Judge McShane in the future should be forewarned by Ms. Marek’s description of John as "precise, punctual, and disciplined." She also observed that John has a tremendous Irish wit and the gift of blarney—the ability to talk with anyone about anything.
The decision to seek a judicial appointment came after taking stock of his "success" as a trial lawyer and realizing that he was ready for a new challenge. While recognizing that being a successful defense lawyer is an important and significant undertaking, he reached a point in his life where he desired to "move from success to significance" in the greater community. He believes that a district court judge has the opportunity to make a significant positive impact on many people.
People who know John McShane also know that he is very devoted to his family. He readily acknowledges the role the love and support of his wife, Molly, and his three daughters have meant to his success as a lawyer. His colleagues know that he frequently speaks about his family with love and pride.
In summation, John McShane is an experienced trial lawyer who brings to the bench a demand for excellence, balanced by a strong concern and respect for others. Governor Carlson has chosen well and the citizens of Hennepin County are fortunate to have a person of John McShane’s experience and temperament on the Hennepin County District Court bench.