Ken Tilsen, Lawyer Extraordinaire, R.I.P.

It grieves me deeply to report that one of my heroes has passed away. Ken Tilsen made it possible to believe in lawyers once again. The following excerpt comes from the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE:

He defended American Indian Movement followers during the Wounded Knee occupation, draft resisters during the Vietnam War, striking union workers, farmers opposed to high-voltage power lines, protesters at the 2008 Republican National Convention and myriad others at odds with the establishment.

Tilsen, 85, died Sunday night at his home in Hudson, Wis. He had congestive heart failure and other health problems and had been in hospice care for a few months, family members and friends said.

“If you’d ask him, he’d say, ‘I’m 85 years old and the parts are wearing out,’ ” his son David said Monday.

Attorney Bill Tilton said Tilsen was a surrogate father and a mentor for more than four decades.

“He taught me so much,” Tilton said. “He taught me how to die, among other things. He taught me how to practice law, how to be a member of the community, how to be a part of the issues of the day.”

Tilsen was “intimately involved in most of the cutting-edge social issues of the last half of the 20th century,” Tilton said. “And he was generally on the right side. He was all-in. He didn’t question whether he was going to make money, whether it was popular.”

Tilsen probably is best known for helping to defend more than 200 American Indians who took over the town of Wounded Knee on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation for 73 days in 1973 and for defending the “Minnesota Eight” draft resisters during the Vietnam War. But his influence was felt all the way from the early civil rights movement, to the 2008 Republican National Convention protesters, to those who opposed a new Vikings stadium.

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