Minneapolis (5-19-05): -- The Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA) recognizes two individuals each year—a judge and a lawyer—for their commitment to the highest of professional standards in the legal community. These Professionalism Awards are granted in the belief that professionalism serves the best interests of clients, fosters respect and trust between lawyers and the public, promotes the efficient resolution of disputes, and improves the administration of justice. The 2005 Professionalism Awards recognize the Honorable Susan Richard Nelson, United States Magistrate, and William J. Wernz, Attorney at Law. Recipients were honored at the Annual Meeting of the HCBA, Thursday, May 19.
Magistrate Judge Susan Richard Nelson was selected as the judicial recipient for this award given annually to a member of the federal or state bench. The award honors a judge who “exemplifies and encourages the highest level of competence, integrity, ethical conduct, and professionalism in the judicial system.” Judge Nelson was selected because of her demonstrated commitment to maintaining civility among lawyers appearing in her courtroom, enforcing the rules of professional conduct, and treating all attorneys and litigants with respect and fairness.
Elevated to the bench in 2000, Magistrate Judge Nelson has contributed to the advancement of professionalism both as a practicing lawyer and as a federal jurist. Before being appointed to her current post, Judge Nelson was a partner in the law firm of Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi LLP, where she served since 1984. She was one of the principal trial lawyers for the State of Minnesota and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota in the landmark litigation against the tobacco industry.
Judge Nelson has demonstrated an unflagging insistence that the lawyers who appear before her observe scrupulously their obligation to adhere to the Rules of Professional Conduct and to conduct themselves professionally as advocates for their clients’ causes. She is truly committed to the goal of instilling the highest level of professionalism and respect for the law in the ranks of the lawyers who appear before her.
William J. Wernz has been awarded the 2005 Professionalism Award for exemplifying the pursuit of the practice of law as a profession, including a spirit of public service and promotion of the highest possible level of competence, integrity and ethical conduct.
Mr. Wernz’s accomplishments and contributions to the advancement of professionalism are widely recognized. Members of both bench and bar who have worked with Wernz uniformly respect him both as an expert in the field of legal ethics and as a visible example of those ethics in practice.
Wernz served from 1985 until 1992 as the director of the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility and has since been the legal ethics officer at Dorsey & Whitney for 13 years. He has written countless articles legal ethics, professionalism, attorney discipline, and other ethics-related subjects. He still dedicates numerous hours each year speaking to groups about legal ethics and professionalism. Before going to law school, Wernz was a college religion professor. He received his Ph.D. in religion from the University of Iowa, and his law degree from Notre Dame. His legal practice includes representation of lawyers, law firms, and judges in professional discipline and liability matters.
In 2002, in the wake of the corporate governance scandals and in the footsteps of the American Bar Association’s Ethics 2000 Initiative, Wernz chaired the Minnesota State Bar Association Task Force on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Under his leadership, the task force undertook the monumental task of reviewing and evaluating each of Minnesota’s Rules of Professional Conduct, along with the Comments to the Rules, in light of the proposed amendments to the ABA Model Rules. The work of the task force represents the first major overhaul of Minnesota’s lawyer professional conduct rules in 20 years. After the task force submitted its recommendations, Wernz also argued for their adoption at a hearing before the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Because of his efforts as chair of the task force, and because of his many other valuable contributions to the cause of lawyers’ professionalism, William J. Wernz is fully deserving of the HCBA’s 2005 Attorney Professionalism Award.