On the advice of the U’s attorney

General Counsel Mark Rotenberg never knows what kind of law will challenge him next.

Molly Moker

The University handles about 130 to 150 legal cases each week, University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said.

On a typical day, Rotenberg, who oversees all University legal matters, said, he might deal with issues such as discrimination lawsuits, construction contract disputes, patent transferring and renewing University coaching contracts.

Rotenberg is heading the University’s appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court regarding the lawsuit filed by five media outlets – including The Minnesota Daily, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune – for the University’s withholding presidential candidates’ names. The hearing is scheduled for Feb. 4.

He said he is not nervous about the case.

“My record is 3-0,” Rotenberg said of his one U.S. Supreme Court and two state Supreme Court appearances.

Rotenberg represented the University in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 when two former employees sued the University over age discrimination.

Rotenberg’s opponents for the upcoming hearing said although he is a good lawyer, he is not invincible.

“Mark is very bright, very intense, controlling and hard-nosed,” said Mark Anfinson, a Twin Cities media lawyer whose clients include the Daily. “But any real confidence is misplaced on both sides. You never know what’s going to happen in a supreme court.”

Pioneer Press attorney Paul Hannah said it does not matter if Rotenberg is prepared for the trial; his argument is a lost cause.

“I’m glad that he’s confident,” Hannah said. “He should be confident that he’ll do a good job arguing, but he has no chance. (The University) is wrong, and I’m expecting him to lose.”

But Hannah said he is impressed with how Rotenberg stands by the University.

“He represents the University’s point of view well,” Hannah said. “I have a lot of respect for how he always has the client’s best interest at heart. He has always worked that way.”

Rotenberg said he has thousands of pages to read and is practicing his arguments with both his legal team and other lawyers from the Twin Cities.

Former co-workers from the Minneapolis-based law firm Dorsey & Whitney, where Rotenberg worked before he came to the University in 1992, said based on what they know of him, Rotenberg will represent the University well in the upcoming

appeal.

“The hallmark of his approach in any legal matter is his extreme attention to detail and thorough investigation of the facts,” Dorsey & Whitney partner Bob Hobbins said. “He’s always well prepared, and the left hand has no chance.”

In addition to legal matters, Rotenberg said, he spends much of his time advising the Board of Regents and University President Bob Bruininks.

“He does a lot for me directly,” Bruininks said. “He deals with very challenging legal issues, but more importantly, he judges a wide range of policy matter, something we need to deal with to keep the University strong.”

Bruininks said Rotenberg’s commitment to the University helps him succeed as general counsel.

“He works for the best interest of the University by keeping the values of the University near and teaching regularly,” Bruininks said. “He is a very valued member of our administration because he’s honest and loyal to the University of Minnesota.”

Rotenberg has taught law classes in the University’s College of Liberal Arts and the Law School.

Rotenberg said he enjoys working for the University, comparing it to being the general counsel of a mid-sized city.

“This job is so challenging,” Rotenberg said. “Every day there could be some breaking news or case or new client that will be potentially controversial.”

Outside the courtroom, Rotenberg enjoys running, playing tennis and the piano. He is also a certified ocean diver and a loyal fan of the Green Bay Packers, “except when they play the Vikings.”

He said much of his time is spent chasing after his three children, ranging in age from 6 to 17.

At the end of February, Rotenberg will travel to Jerusalem, where he will teach two classes to Israeli law students until June.

Deputy General Counsel William Donohue will take over as acting general counsel until Rotenberg returns.

Rotenberg said he is confident things will run smoothly while he’s away.

“I told them all of the scandals have to be done by June 1,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.”

Rotenberg, originally from the Minneapolis area, received his undergraduate degree from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and went on to Columbia Law School in New York where he obtained his law degree and a master’s degree in American history.