As he turns 70, Iron Range lawyer embarks on new chapter of his career

Iron Range lawyer Carver Richards, who turns 70 today, said he enjoyed hearing someone on television recently say that 70 is the new 35. Richards embraces the thought because he believes he remains an effective and energetic trial attorney. That'...

Carver Richards
Carver Richards (right) formed a partnership with Erik Honkanen (left) to form a new firm in Virginia after Richards was forced out of the law firm where he had worked for nearly 40 years. (Photo courtesy Carver Richards)

Iron Range lawyer Carver Richards, who turns 70 today, said he enjoyed hearing someone on television recently say that 70 is the new 35.

Richards embraces the thought because he believes he remains an effective and energetic trial attorney.

That's why, despite knowing that the Trenti Law Firm expected him to retire after the first of the year, Richards reported for work. He said one of the firm's partners boldly challenged why he was there.

"I knew then that the party was over," Richards said.

After nearly four decades with the Virginia-based law firm, including several years as its face in television commercials, Richards had to be told to leave.


Richards didn't have to go far to find work. He moved two blocks south of his former firm and went to work with lawyer Erik Honkanen to form Honkanen Richards, S.C. The firm's areas of practice include criminal and family law, business litigation, personal injury, products liability, medical malpractice and estate planning.

But that doesn't mean he's not bitter.

"After 40 years of, I think, loyal, hard work promoting that law firm, I never even got a thank-you note, a phone call, a letter -- nothing," he said. "I think that's what irritates me more than anything. I thought somebody would say, 'After all, he did spend 40 years here.' ... That really frosts me."

The News Tribune asked Sam Aluni, one of the partners of the Trenti Law Firm, a series of e-mail questions that included, among others, why Richards was asked to leave the firm, the quality of his job performance, his skills as a trial attorney, and to comment on the firm not formally recognizing Richards' years of service.

Aluni said Friday that the firm had no comment.

Richards said he likes and respects Aluni, but he didn't want to comment on the other members of his former firm.

"I'm not happy. It's like getting divorced after 40 years," he said. "It's very disappointing. I just thought there might be a place for me there. The old saying, 'Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.' I thought that I would just fade away."

Honkanen, 32, is younger than Richards' youngest child and appreciates the experience his new partner brings to the firm. Honkanen graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and earned his law degree and Master of Business Administration at the University of St. Thomas. He started his practice in 2008. Honkanen said business has increased dramatically since he and Richards formed the partnership.


"He brings 150 jury trials of experience to me," Honkanen said. "It's knowing all the courtroom tricks."

"Don't say tricks," Richards interjected.

"Sorry. He knows all the courtroom maneuvering and tactics," Honkanen rephrased. "He's old-school and go, go, go."

Richards, who lives in rural Gilbert, said he didn't need the money and he already played golf and skied as much as he wanted, but he needed the trial courtroom action.

"I just like the process. I like what I do," he said. "I negotiate. I talk. I cajole. I coerce. I just enjoy the contest. I really don't think I've lost anything. I have a lot of stamina. I think I've gained a lot of experience, not only legal and in the courtroom, but in life, family and business. That makes us so much more valuable than a younger person."

Hibbing lawyer Ed Matonich has tried many cases against Richards and respects his work.

"Carver is a strong adversary," Matonich said. "He was in the Marines, and going to court against Carver is like going to war. He's a worthy advocate for his client's cause. Carver's word is bond. We walked out of trials battered, but still friends."

Matonich is 73 and can understand why Richards wants to keep working in a courtroom.


"I've got retired friends who hunt every day, who fish every day, or play golf every day; to me that would be work after a while," Matonich said, "Where can you be 73 years old and still involved in meaningful competition and at the same time do something worthwhile for people who entrust you with their cause? That's from the heart."

Those who know him outside the courtroom know that Richards has displayed a wild side during some hard-drinking days. "That was many years ago that I was a wild man; there's no other way of phrasing it," he said. "I was full of myself. No doubt about it -- fighting, drinking. But I never hurt anybody."

A check of Minnesota court records found two cases in which Richards was the defendant. A speeding conviction in 2003 and a misdemeanor assault conviction from a bar fight in Hennepin County in 1989.

"I got in a fight at Eddie Webster's (a former bar in Bloomington, Minn.); it wasn't the first time, by the way," Richards quipped. "You've got to remember: I was in the Marine Corps and I lived in a family of eight boys. We just didn't take (guff) from anybody."

Richards is a native of Eveleth and graduated from high school there in 1961. There were 14 kids in his family. When asked where he fit in the chronological pecking order, he said: "First. What did you think?"

He spent 1962 to 1965 in the Marines Corps, where he spent most of his working time in the communications center at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., and his off-duty time at the golf course. He went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota and earned his law degree from the William Mitchell College of Law before embarking on a four-plus-decade career. He's been married to wife Barbara for 45 years.

"I don't feel like I'm 70," he said. "I can hit a golf ball 250 yards, I can ski the 'blacks' (downhill slopes for experts) with my kids. When I talk about an older person, it's almost like I'm talking about somebody else, although I realize I'm 70. I think many 70-year-olds these days have a lot to contribute, a lot of vitality, and a lot of knowledge. For that to be discounted by employers, by other people, I think is a big mistake."

What To Read Next
Get Local