Attorneys of the Year: David Potter
Posted: 1:15 pm Mon, February 25, 2013
By Nancy Crotti
Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly
Last year had legal bookends for David Potter, a partner at Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly.
Potter conducted his biggest jury trial, a five-week proceeding representing a railroad client in a deadly derailment case in Illinois. He also convinced a Minnesota probate court referee and a Hennepin District Court judge that the surviving spouse in a same-sex couple was entitled to inherit his partner’s assets.
The latter case affected him on a personal level. Potter was deeply involved in Minnesotans United for All Families, which prevailed last year in keeping a ban on same-sex marriage out of the Minnesota Constitution. He and his partner of 30 years plan to marry in Iowa in September.
“I’m surprised that the one that affected me the most wasn’t the five-week trial with 120 witnesses,” Potter said.
Instead, it was the probate case of Thomas Proehl and James Morrison, partners since 1987. Proehl had been the managing director of the Guthrie Theater and headed the Minnesota State Arts Board before he and Morrison moved to San Francisco in 2008. They married there and bought a house, returning to the Twin Cities in 2010.
Proehl died unexpectedly of a heart attack in April 2011 at age 46. He left no will.
Because Minnesota law prohibits same-sex marriage and federal law does not require states to recognize such marriages performed in other states, it appeared Proehl’s parents would inherit his estate. They wanted Morrison to receive the money, about $250,000. Potter put Morrison and Proehl’s mother on the stand in the brief probate court proceeding.
“There was no law I could cite,” Potter said. “I had to make them understand the human side of this.”
The probate referee and judge agreed to award the estate to Morrison, a first for Minnesota.
“Right now it’s a pretty important issue to people like James Morrison,” Potter said. “At 58, I get to do the big railroad cases, but also the cases that really matter to me, even though they don’t pay me any money.”