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Jerry W. Blackwell (Circle of Excellence honoree), left, and Corey L. Gordon (Circle of Excellence honoree)
Jerry W. Blackwell (Circle of Excellence honoree), left, and Corey L. Gordon (Circle of Excellence honoree)

2020 Attorneys of the Year: Jerry W. Blackwell and Corey L. Gordon

circle-excellenceIn a shameful chapter of Minnesota history, a Black man named Max Mason was wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman in 1920. Several other Black men were also accused, three of whom were subsequently lynched. There was no evidence to support the allegations against Mason or the three other men.

In tandem with the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, a group of attorneys from Blackwell Burke collaborated with the Minnesota Historical Society, members of the Federal Bar, and other supporters to successfully secure a posthumous pardon for Mason.

Blackwell Burke partner Corey L. Gordon, whose firm worked on the pardon pro bono, said there wasn’t much of a roadmap to follow in clearing Mason’s name so long after the fact. It was the first posthumous pardon in the state’s history.

“There’s no express provision in Minnesota for a posthumous pardon,” said Gordon. “The entire application process presumes that the person seeking the pardon will sign it.”

The Pardon Board consisted of Gov. Tim Walz, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea and Attorney General Keith Ellison. Letters of support for the pardon were submitted by former Pardon Board members and Minnesota federal judges, among others.

Gordon co-authored the pardon application with Ben W. Hulse, Charmaine Harris, Ted Hartman, Gene Hummel, Tony Atwal and Jerry Blackwell. Spiwe L. Jefferson, past president of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, drafted that organization’s letter of support and collaborated with MABL’s leadership in its submission.

“We had to improvise along the way,” said Gordon. “There was a provision that we interpreted to mean we had to request an opportunity to be heard at a pardon board meeting. We did that in December 2019. The board authorized it to be presented to its next meeting in June 2020.”

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2020 here.

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