Trailblazers: Legal Aid Society


This month's Trailblazers article features the Minnesota Legal Aid Society, an organization that provides legal aid to people in need. Learn more about the role of the Legal Aid Society in the 1975 landmark decision of Hoehle v. Likins, which protected the Minnesota welfare aid allocation system. 

The Trailblazers series has typically highlighted individuals who furthered diversity and became an inspiration to others. Minnesota also has a rich history of organizations that have championed equity and social justice. This month I wanted to highlight the Legal Aid Society as our trailblazing source of inspiration.

Throughout the Legal Aid Society’s history there are many landmark wins. I wanted to highlight one in particular—Hoehle v. Likins—which was essentially a determination of whether a Minnesota aid allocation system conflicted with a recently changed federal statute. The federal statute had been recently changed by a conservative presidency and was an attempt to restrict welfare aid to families.

The statute was scheduled to go into effect October 1, 1975, and approximately $5 million in welfare aid that was previously given to families would not have been distributed due to the recently changed statute.

Legal Aid took on the case and sued the state of Minnesota, asking for an immediate injunctive relief to ensure that the welfare benefits stayed the same as before the statute of enacted. Over the course of the next three months the following happened:

  • Legal Aid’s case was originally denied
  • Legal Aid appealed that decision – not to the Court of Appeals but to a panel of three judges appointed by the Supreme Court. That panel certified that the case should go to the Supreme Court. (The Court of Appeals did not exist at the time)
  • The Supreme Court ruled in Legal Aid’s favor.
  • The state of Minnesota appealed that decision in federal court which remanded the decision back to the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court ruled in Legal Aid’s favor.

One of my mentors handled this case and hustled tirelessly throughout those three months.[1] He retired from our firm in the last month. He has a lengthy list of accomplishments, although he would never tell you what any of them were. Learning about this case—and the many others I was lucky enough to witness in my few years learning from him—was a lesson for me. I believe that your mentors are the ones that shape you into the lawyer you become. I know that if I have a sliver of his talent, I will consider myself awfully lucky.

[1] I hope he forgives me if my summary of this case is off due to my poor recollection. There was only so much I could derive from the Court opinions. 



Racey Rodne, who practices personal injury law with McEllistrem Fargione, PA, is co-chair of the New Lawyers Section, and a member of the RCBA Board and the Diversity Committee.