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Mark Fiddler’s caseload often involves the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which sets standards for adopting Indian children and placing them in homes that “reflect the unique values of Indian culture.” (File photo)
Mark Fiddler’s caseload often involves the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which sets standards for adopting Indian children and placing them in homes that “reflect the unique values of Indian culture.” (File photo)

Breaking the Ice: From restaurant industry to U.S. Supreme Court win

Name: Mark Fiddler

Title: Owner/attorney, Fiddler Osband LLC

Education: B.A., humanities, University of Minnesota; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

 

Mark Fiddler’s first career was in the restaurant business. But something was missing.

“Serving rich people,” Fiddler said, “wasn’t feeding the intellectual passion and my desire to change the world.”

That led Fiddler to law school and, before private practice, serving as the Indian Child Welfare Law Center’s founding director.

The nonprofit venture combined two of Fiddler’s interests: returning to juvenile court, where he had practiced in his first job as a Hennepin County public defender, and helping the American Indian community. Fiddler is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

Today Fiddler’s caseload often involves the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which sets standards for adopting Indian children and placing them in homes that “reflect the unique values of Indian culture.”

Fiddler helped win a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the act didn’t block a couple’s adoption of a baby whose biological father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, had sought custody. Fiddler, a Minnesota Lawyer Attorney of the Year honoree, has gained a national profile for his work in the controversial case that he said addressed “how Indian children are entitled to equal protection of the law.”

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Ask me what I do you when not lawyering. That means asking me about cooking, cycling and being a spin instructor.

Q. What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A. I have this old-school idea about changing the world to make it a better place. I saw law as a means of bringing about systems change. My dad worked for the Red Cross and my mom was a teacher in the inner city. They both wanted to serve others. I have to fathom that that’s where I got those values from. … I wound up serving the oppressed and the prisoners as a public defender and that led to the Indian child welfare work, and that spoke to my background, and then it was like I’m off to the races.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. “Marie Antoinette, Last Queen of France,” by Evelyne Lever and “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved,” by Kate Bowler.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Ad hominem arguments. Incivility in law practice.

Q. What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A. I think good lawyers have to be good teachers, to our clients and to the bench. I love tackling really messy fact patterns, figuring how the law applies to them and then explaining to a judge why my client should prevail. It’s the “game” aspect of law, the “puzzle solving” function we perform. I tell clients they’d better hope their lawyer likes the “gaming” aspect of law, because our ability to think our ways out of jams is critical.

Q. Least favorite?

A. The emotional stress that comes with taking on the really hard cases.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I love to cycle. I’ve climbed the hardest climbs on the Tour de France route. I own six bikes. I also teach spinning at the YMCA. It provides great life balance.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. Walk around Lake Harriet, maybe go to Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center.

Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A. I have always admired [Hennepin County District Court] Judge Kevin Burke. He is a “lawyerly lawyer’s judge,” very smart, with a deep sense of fairness and kindness.

Q. What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A. That we are motivated by money. Some are, but most of us really want to help other people.

Q. What if any is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture?

A. I’m a sap for heroes who do the right thing despite odds, so I have to say “To Kill A Mocking Bird.”

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