Charles A. Porter
Originally published in the September/October 1982 issue.
Author: Robert W. Barnett
Portions of this profile were redacted on request of the Judge.
This biographical introduction to the Honorable Charles A. Porter, Judge of the District Court, will recall the admonition "from those to whom much is given, much is expected." The fulfillment of his judicial promise has and will continue to emerge from his remarkable talents.
Presently, Judge Porter is enjoying the distinction and honor of being elevated to District Court bench, effective October 1, 1982. At the same time, he is pursuing a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology as an evening graduate student at St. Thomas College. He is also serving in the U. S. Navy Ready Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. His military duties include service as a Military Judge and teacher of Military Trial Practice and Procedure.
When I first interviewed Judge Porter for employment with our firm in 1974, he was serving on active duty in the office of the Air Force Judge Advocate General in Washington, D.C. After our interview, I suggested to my colleagues that if the military services turned out officers and gentlemen, then, indeed, Charles A. Porter answered the description.
Judge Porter graduated from Lawrence University with a math major in 1967 and the University of Minnesota Law School in 1970. After being admitted to practice, he fulfilled his military obligation by serving four years with the U. S. Air Force as a trial counsel, Military Judge and Claims Adjudicator.
Upon his discharge from active military service, Judge Porter entered into the private practice of law, specializing in civil litigation. He joined Barnett, Ratelle, Hennessy, Vander Vort, Stasel & Herzog in 1974, and the firm of Frommelt & Eide in 1977. He continued in civil practice until his appointment to the Hennepin County Municipal Court in 1980.
Judge Porter is an articulate person, sensitive and aware of his position in the judicial scheme of things. He notes, for instance, that since he comes from the civil trial sector, he is in the minority, as opposed to those judges whose background is found in the administration of criminal law or some other specialized area of public service.
From this perspective, he feels that the present state of the civil calendar results from legislative priorities given to special programs. Accordingly, much judicial manpower is dedicated to specific legislative mandates, resulting in substantial delay before civil cases reach trial. This situation has been worsened by recent fiscal shortages curtailing the use of retired judges, who were assigned principally to try civil cases. It must be remembered, however, that the Legislature reflects the will of the people and, in Judge Porter’s opinion, this will can be turned to our favor by doing our work in such a way as to enhance the legal profession.
Judge Porter comments that he would like to see improvement in attorneys’ demeanor and appearance in the courtroom. He has in mind the expectation of the public to witness what they conceive an attorney to be. The public views the courtroom as a formal setting. He points out that the raised bench, a robed judge, the flag, the prohibition against reading newspapers, chewing gum, etc., all contribute to the formality of the setting. Consistent with this theme, then, the attorney should be well groomed and appropriately dressed, and should exhibit a professional demeanor. Anything less, including the habitual tardiness of some attorneys, detracts from what the public has reason to expect. Judge Porter disclaims any personal reaction on his part but is concerned that the public will react negatively. "If we become casual about the setting, we show disrespect for the system."
From his experience, Judge Porter finds that the medium-sized law firms in particular do not always supervise their new trial associates as well as they might. He would recommend that inexperienced trial counsel appear in the company of more senior or experienced trial lawyers for as long as is required to give the attorney confidence and sufficient experience to try a case skillfully. The reputation of a law firm is tested every time a member of that firm is in court, whether he or she be a senior or junior attorney. He notes a substantial waste of judicial time when attorneys appear who are not skilled, even in minimal trial essentials. Such counsel have difficulty avoiding leading questions in direct examination or laying a proper foundation for the introduction of exhibits or expert opinions. This results in the litigation being prolonged unnecessarily. Judge Porter is also concerned with the lack of compliance on the part of attorneys with filing requirements, unsigned pleadings, omission of affidavits of service, and other failures to observe the Rules, particularly in the area of motion practice. He submits that judicial time is limited and should be devoted to the significant issues.
Judge Porter also laments what he finds to be an abysmal lack of trial preparation. He believes that every case should have a theory or plan. Once adopted, the evidence should be adduced pursuant to the plan in orderly sequence. Without a well considered plan or a trial brief, the attorney renders a disservice to his client and the Court. "It is hard to fit things onto the branches if you don’t have a tree."
In the area of criminal law, Judge Porter does not believe that letting someone go after conviction does anyone a favor—especially not the defendant. Stated conversely, he believes it would be better not to have made the arrest in the first place if, after conviction, there is no consequence. As Judge Porter says, "Criminal behavior is not modified if the criminal does not suffer a consequence. Rather, whatever is reinforced will be continued."
As the reporter, permit me to share a concern with all of you. My concern is over the premature departure for financial reasons of so many younger, capable Judges from our District Court bench. Minnesota ranks 34th nationally in judicial compensation, having just fallen behind Oregon and Wisconsin. I sincerely hope our Legislature will soon appreciate the critical need to retain career judges of the caliber of Charles A. Porter by providing the necessary funding to do so.
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