Blazing news crew lights radiate towards me as I grip the podium minutes before giving my first press conference as an attorney. I represent the Traditional Values Coalition and I’m about to pick apart a Governor’s Task Force Report offered in support of a Gay Rights Bill. The press conference concludes without a hitch and the next day the Star Tribune reads “Gay Rights Foes Say Task Force Failed.” The Bill passes regardless.
But as I expect, a few weeks later I am served with a twenty page Complaint to strip me of my law license.
Stealing from one’s trust account brings rightful consequences. In my first two years of practicing law I had “borrowed” under $10,000.00 from my clients’ trust account which eventually got paid back seventy-five percent, before the investigation began, but the damage was done.
The American dream of becoming a lawyer should never have been mine. Born to a father I never knew and a Hispanic mother, we would leave San Antonio, Texas for Minnesota when I was ten years old. There we would sit, laying down our bedding in the back of a canvas top pickup truck, with a dozen others readying for the long trip north. Mom had become a migrant worker and we will never leave Minnesota upon arriving.
During my childhood, we will be evicted and lose our possessions multiple times, even once from the Mt. Airy Projects in St. Paul. I will come home to find plywood covering all the windows and changed locks.
The alphabet will remain a mystery to me until 5th grade. In 7th and 8th grade combined I will miss 65 days of school. But thereafter four years of perfect attendance propels me to graduate third in my class, to be awarded the Science and Journalism Department awards, and to reign as chess champion twice over. After graduating from St. John’s University, I will attend the University of Connecticut, one of the top 25 law schools in the country.
I return to Minnesota with law degree in hand but my attempts to pass the two day so-called “Bar Exam” will almost drive me to a Bar of a different sort. The magic number to pass is 260. I score 258, 259 and 248. No joke. The fourth time is not the charm. It is work. But I pass. Five years after graduating law school I am sworn in as a lawyer. There is little to celebrate then. I am just grateful to have made it.
Then the disturbing Complaint arrives in year four of my beginning practice.
What will everyone think? How will I live?
My journal entry for November 17, 1991 may give you a hint:
“One thing I know is in God’s plan—the humbling and purification of my spirit. I am being trained in righteousness right now. The picture isn’t pretty. I see myself as looking bad to others. I never thought that I possessed pride but I see now that I have it. Thank you Lord for lifting my sensitivity level in this area. I pray for courage and strength.”
How I could come to such a place is a representative of a dual life. My former life and new life were at a crossroads.
Around the time that my trust account offenses were topping off in 1991 I attend a twelve week, one-on-one bible study called “Operation Timothy” offered by CBMC, a Christian Business Men’s Group. It’s the fifth week and I am considering a question where “God’s love” appears to be the only answer. Suddenly I feel something give way in my spirit, like a subtle click heard on a vault combination lock. But when this vault opens God’s love pours in and surrounds me, seeping into every pore. Tears make way to sobs and the Presence intensifies. I am powerfully embraced by the love of a personal God.
Thereafter a four year ‘runaway train in the Spirit’ period begins. Full speed ahead with no brakes. Three changes manifest themselves.
First, the Bible becomes a motion picture as I read it, particularly the Old Testament. I become obsessed with the Bible and will read the whole thing twice over.
Second, my prayer life comes alive, like having a hotline to God. When I pray now that familiar warm glow will intensify as I let the Spirit move me in prayer.
Third, I want to sing praise music even though I know no Christian artists! This is just strange. A friend loans me half a dozen CDs and now the TV is turned off after 10:30 p.m. and I’m singing instead. Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven” becomes a favorite.
In the midst of my ‘awakening’ the Lawyer’s Board investigation on my past deeds begins and more than a year later I will agree to a one year suspension.
One week after reaching that agreement my journal will read:
“August 29, 1993
Last week I agreed to a one year suspension of my law license. Ten minutes after making this decision I went on a weekend canoe trip. I did enjoy the trip. I am at peace. If I were to die tomorrow I would die a peaceful and grateful man. God stands by me. He has displayed to me His grace and mercy. I am thankful to know God at this time.”
During my suspension God will act powerfully. I will manage a gubernatorial campaign for pay, despite having no prior campaign experience. And within nine months of my suspension I will meet my lovely future wife, Betty, and will be married to her seven months later. What follows are two beautiful, smart daughters now in college. And I can say that I am now looking back on twenty-seven years as a reinstated lawyer, having employed two lawyers for a short time, with gross revenue approaching $400,000.00 during that time.
While other challenges persist I have learned firsthand that God is ever faithful. I am blessed beyond all measure.
I stand redeemed.