New to the Bench: Hon. Edward T. Wahl
Saturday, September 1, 2012
by: Melitta George
Judge Edward T. Wahl
Ms. George is an associate in the Business Law Section of Briggs and Morgan and practices in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and corporate counseling. She received her law degree from William Mitchell College of Law.
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Judge Edward T. Wahl
1983 J.D., University of Chicago Law School
1980 M.A., University of Virginia
1978 B.A. with honors, Northwestern University
2001-2012 Partner, Faegre Baker Daniels (formerly Faegre & Benson)
1988-2001 Partner & associate, Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly
1985-1988 Associate, Morrison & Foerster
1983-1985 Judicial and Staff Law Clerk for the Hon. Gerald W. Heaney, US Court of Appeals,
Judge Edward “Ned” Wahl is a life-long learner. He demonstrates this quality when he speaks about the reasons why he is excited to be a judge. After 29 years in practice, he is eager to be learning entirely new areas of the law.
Before his appointment by Gov. Mark Dayton to the bench of the Fourth Judicial District, Ned Wahl practiced at Faegre Baker Daniels for 12 years. Prior to working at Faegre, he practiced at Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly for 12 years, after beginning his practice of law at Morrison and Foerster. In his practice, he specialized in complex commercial litigation involving financial institutions. As Wahl explains, one aspect in the success of a practicing lawyer is increasing specialization in narrow areas of the law.
As part of his new role, Wahl will be challenged by issues in subject areas such as criminal law, juvenile law, and probate law. As with all new judges, Wahl’s first assignment is serious traffic offenses. Wahl wants to start a new chapter in his career by working with individuals and the issues they face in their personal lives, in contrast to the work he did as a litigator working with financial institutions.
Judge Wahl started at the court in July 2012. In his short time there, he has been amazed at the breadth and depth of the court system. Wahl describes the court as handling unlimited problems with limited resources and is impressed by the commitment of the court management and staff to serve the people who appear before the court. Wahl will undergo six weeks of training with sitting judges before starting his first assignment in September.
While Wahl may be new to the bench of the Fourth Judicial District, he is not unfamiliar with the life and work of a judge and public servant. His oldest brother Eric, was a judge in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and his second brother, Carl, has had a long career with the Secret Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office as an investigator. In addition, after law school, Wahl served as a law clerk to the Hon. Gerald W. Heaney of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Wahl speaks of how Judge Heaney exemplified the value of public service, a quality that the new judge emulates in his own life, including outside of his legal career.
Judge Wahl has been active in the profession as well as the community. He serves on the board of the Minnesota Urban Debate League. This organization serves to bring the activity of debate to children attending schools in low-income and underserved areas. The judge describes the overarching goal of the Urban Debate League to develop people rooted in their community and who will eventually become college graduates. The judge passionately supports the debate league's mission, describing the effect he has seen on the students who were involved in debate. Their attendance at school increased and they were more active students at school. Wahl participated in high school debate at Eau Claire Memorial High School, so, naturally, he is well-suited to speak about its value.
After high school, Wahl majored in English at Northwestern University. He equates English majors with lawyers in the sense that both have to analyze language and develop a cohesive narrative. After college, he went on to earn a master’s degree in English from the University of Virginia. Wahl continues to pursue his passion for literature by serving on the board of the Milkweed Press and teaching the law and literature programs through the HCBA. The law and literature programs use the conflicts that appear in literature to draw out the participants and start a discussion of the conflicts that appear in their own practices. Facilitating discussion groups, he draws lawyers into wrestling with issues of ethics and bias.
Wahl's other community commitments include serving on the board of the Minnesota Private College Council, which is a group of private college presidents and business leaders who work on higher education policy. He also participates on the steering committee for the YWCA’s annual program It’s Time to Talk about Race.
Judge Wahl loves to read. In his spare time, he reads both nonfiction and fiction and is a member of a book club. He also enjoys music and plays the banjo and guitar. He currently takes guitar lessons at the MacPhail School of Music. As a child, he played bassoon. His love of music was transmitted to his older son, who recently completed his first year at the Eastman School of Music majoring in guitar performance. Wahl has a second son who is currently in middle school.
Judge Wahl would encourage others aspiring to the bench to attend the seminar run by the Commission on Judicial Selection about judicial appointments. He speaks of the need to have good litigation skills. He thought it would be harder for transactional lawyers to become judges but not impossible if those lawyers have passion and curiosity about the law. Wahl described the importance of performing pro bono work on causes that matter to the individual lawyer. Prior to becoming a judge, he provided pro bono representation on a regular basis through representing guardians ad litem and volunteering through Volunteer Lawyers Network at the Legal Access Point Clinic in the Hennepin County Self-Help Center.
Wahl emphasizes the need for aspiring judges and all lawyers to value the legal community by participating in bar activities.
In addition to working with the HCBA's Law and Literature programs, Wahl also led other CLE presentations, and served as the chair of the Nominating Committee and the Finance and Planning Committee of the HCBA.
When asked what qualities a judge needs, Wahl explained the need for confidence and the ability to “get back on the horse” after making a mistake. A judge also needs to have passion and curiosity about the law, as well as being able to think simply and have a practical mind in solving problems.
Judge Wahl will be able to draw on his professional, community, and academic experiences to relate to the people appearing in court before him. His career serves as a fine model for others interested in pursuing a judicial appointment. His example of leadership through service to others is a valuable lesson for all lawyers.