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Late Duluth attorneys, judges honored

Mike Lien tells a story about the late A. Charles Olson during Monday’s annual memorial for local lawyers and judges who have died in the past year. The event, which may be the only one of its type in the state, was held in Chief Judge Sally L. Tarnowski’s courtroom. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

For an annual event that dates back well over a century, the proceedings held on the fourth floor of the St. Louis County Courthouse on Monday morning don't generally attract a lot of public attention.

But for many local attorneys and judges, past and present, it was a can't-miss annual event that offers an opportunity to reflect the legal work of those who came before them — family members, friends, law partners, bosses and mentors.

On the first Monday of each January, the 11th District Bar Association holds a memorial service to recognize area attorneys and judges who died in the prior year, complete with eulogies from those who knew them best.

A tradition dating back to the late 1800s, officials said the ceremony is unique to Duluth. It is believed the courthouse may be the only one in the state to hold an annual public memorial.

"It's a proud way to honor and remember our colleagues who have passed away during the course of the last year," said 6th Judicial District Judge Sally Tarnowski.

Remembered at Monday's event were:

  • Harry Munger, 90, a longtime personal injury and general practice law attorney and DFL party activist in Duluth. He was brother to longtime State Rep. Willard Munger and father of 6th Judicial District Judge Mark Munger.
  • Earl Gustafson, 90, a longtime Duluth attorney and state lawmaker who went on to become chief judge of the Minnesota Tax Court.
  • A. Charles Olson, 87, an attorney knowing for practicing law in Duluth's old West End neighborhood for more than 50 years.
  • Wayne Johnson, 97, a North Shore legend whose 50-plus years with the cities of Silver Bay and Beaver Bay made him the longest-serving city attorney in U.S. history. Also an avid pilot, the recently shuttered Silver Bay airport bears his name.
  • Galen Wilson, 80, who served in private practice and as an assistant Duluth city attorney before he was appointed as a 6th Judicial District judge in Duluth — a position he held for 20 years.
  • Tom Sjogren, 84, whose whirlwind career took him from private practice to the St. Louis County Attorney's Office to the Indian Legal Assistance Program to Barrow, Alaska, to the small Pacific island of Yap and, finally, back to the Northland as a prosecutor for the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa.
  • M.K. Donovan, 71, a Vietnam veteran who 44 years of private practice in Duluth included integral behind-the-scenes legal work to establish the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, as well as construction projects including the Verso paper mill and Duluth Entertainment Convention Center expansion.
  • Vic Ulmer, 78, who served 17 years in the Duluth City Attorney's Office, first as a prosecutor and later handling civil service issues.
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