The Paul Marino People’s Lawyer Award commemorates the life and work of Paul Marino, a lawyer and law professor who plied his expertise in landlord/tenant law to represent and protect the rights of low income people and people of color facing discrimination. This award is presented annually by the Minnesota Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild to an attorney who carries his legacy forward.
On March 14, 2002, we lost a valiant fighter for the poor and downtrodden. Paul J. Marino was born in New York of Sicilian parents on October 29, 1936. He grew up in New York City. He served in the US Marine Corps Reserves while attending City College of New York, from which he graduated in 1962. He then attended the University of Chicago Law School, where he earned his Juris Doctor degree in 1965.
Paul began his legal career with the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis. Along with fellow New Yorker and dear friend Bernard Becker, Paul represented people who could not afford to pay for a lawyer. Paul soon became an expert in the area of landlord/tenant law and worked tirelessly in the legislative arena, drafting and securing the passage by the Minnesota Legislature of landmark legislation protecting the rights of tenants, including laws on retaliatory eviction, tenants’ remedies, and covenants of habitability. Paul became the Legal Aid Society’s Executive Director in 1970, and held that position until 1974 when he joined the faculty at William Mitchell College of Law.
During his 27 years at William Mitchell, Paul taught numerous courses—Torts, Evidence, Employment Law, Work of the Lawyer, and Professional responsibility. Together with his friend Bernard Becker, who had joined William Mitchell faculty a year before Paul, they founded William Mitchell’s Immigration Law Clinic.
Paul earned the admiration and affection of thousands of William Mitchell students. They loved the dramatic flair that he brought to the classroom, and enjoyed his use of props and a “class villain” carefully chosen to be the good-natured foil for various hypothetical situations addressed in class discussions.
Students also appreciated Paul’s concern and approachability—he was frequently spotted talking to students in the student commons. He participated in extracurricular programs for students, advising client counseling competition students, judging moot court arguments, and presenting diversity programs on discrimination and the practice of law.
In addition to his teaching duties, Paul continued to support legal assistance to the poor and disadvantaged, and was active in Hennepin County and Minnesota Bar Association committee work, particularly in the area of lawyers’ professionalism and in the drafting of proposed rules of lawyers’ professional conduct.
Paul was also very active in the National Lawyers Guild. He served on the Minnesota Chapter’s steering committee and for two years as president of the chapter. He played a key role in the National organization’s Committee on Corporations, the Constitution and Human Rights. He fostered a national debate on the growing role of corporations as actors in the political sphere and brought attention to the impact of corporations on the judicial and democratic process.
Paul retired and became a William Mitchell College of Law emeritus professor of law in January 2001. He had barely begun his retirement when he suffered a near-fatal auto accident in Wisconsin, and then was diagnosed with cancer. His health deteriorated inexorably and progressively, and he died peacefully in his home.
Paul’s career is probably summarized best by his own words that appeared in his faculty page on the William Mitchell website:
“As an attorney and law professor, I have tried to provide effective legal representation and voice to those who too often are left behind economically or face discrimination in our nation. Nothing makes me prouder than former law students who tell me that I helped spark their interest in the legal services or pro bono work they are doing now.”
Adapted from a work by Profs. Ken Kirwin and Peter Erlinder