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Christian Golding, Fargo, Published August 03 2013

Letter: Bright’s historic ‘legend’

We’ve all seen the television ads promoting our state, “North Dakota … Legendary!”

Much of that moniker can be attributed to our people … the legends who have made history here.

Recently with the passing of Gov. Bill Guy and his wife, Jean, Col. Ed Clapp and Jean Betty Anderson, some of those legends have crossed over … a permanent part of history now, yet forever in our hearts and memories.

But there are still some true “living legends” among us.

Several days ago Judge Myron H. Bright’s law clerks held a reunion for the judge, celebrating his 45th anniversary as a federal judge on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. At 94 years old, Bright is the oldest currently serving appellate judge in the United States, and his tenure is the longest in history on the 8th Circuit.

The festivities were capped by a dinner and program held at the Holiday Inn, Fargo. Remarks were offered by several of the judge’s clerks, Dean Kathryn Rand of the University of North Dakota School of Law, and a special guest, James Dean Walker.

Bright has heard more than 7,000 cases and authored numerous opinions. He is perhaps best known for his work on McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, a seminal case in employment discrimination law; U.S. v. Reserve Mining, an early environmental case; and the case of James Dean Walker, an Arkansas man convicted of murder, who spent 23 years in prison and at one time was on death row. In 1980, when the case came to Bright’s court on appeal, he suspected “something wasn’t right.” Five years later, primarily due to the judge’s efforts, Walker was set free.

Walker traveled to Fargo from Boise, Idaho, to attend the reunion and meet Bright, the person who was so instrumental in helping him gain his freedom 28 years ago. Although they had corresponded and spoken on the phone over the years, they had never met. Walker’s presence was a surprise to the judge, and their meeting was poignant and heartfelt. Walker concluded his remarks at the dinner by noting that he had heard his case was one of Bright’s favorites, and he wanted the judge to know that “of all the judges that heard my case, Judge Bright is my favorite!”

The judge came to North Dakota in 1947, when he joined the firm of Wattam, Vogel and Vogel (now the Vogel Law Firm) after graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School. An “Iron Ranger” by birth, he adopted North Dakota as his home. He and his wife of more than 50 years, Frances “Fritzie” Bright were involved in the state’s and city’s politics before Bright became a judge, and were dedicated to charitable and social causes.

Bright’s advocacy of North Dakota runs deep. He’s a fan of North Dakota State University and Bison sports programs, and he’s donated much of his memorabilia to his adopted Law School at the University of North Dakota, where a fund has been created to build the Judge Myron and Frances Bright Reading Room.

Insight into his love and devotion for North Dakota was evidenced on a recent trip to the U.S. Supreme Court. After visiting with several of the justices, Bright asked to speak with their law clerks. Ever the teacher and mentor, he held a short seminar, lecturing the clerks on the importance of Fargo and North Dakota in momentous legal decisions. He specifically referred them to the case of the “Little Rock Nine” in which his friend and fellow Fargoan Judge Ronald Davies had played a critical role in the development of civil rights litigation and law. Interestingly enough, Chief Justice John Roberts stayed and listened “attentively” to the lecture.

If you want to wish Bright a happy anniversary, you can catch him in his chambers at the Quentin Burdick U.S. Federal Courthouse. He goes to work four days a week. And he’s scheduled to sit on the court this fall in both St. Paul and St. Louis. No doubt adding to his legend and making us all proud that we live in legendary North Dakota.