Law School Mourns the Passing of Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Yetka (’48)

December 4, 2017

Lawrence Yetka (’48), who served for a decade in the Minnesota legislature and for nearly two decades on the state’s highest court, passed away Nov. 12 in his hometown of Cloquet, Minn. He was 93.

Yetka’s father, an attorney himself, thought his son should pursue a career as an actuary, but Yetka had his mind set on a legal career from an early age. After graduating from Cloquet High School, Yetka came to the University, where he finished his undergraduate and J.D. degrees in just six years. As a University student, he became an enthusiastic participant in DFL politics, supporting Hubert Humphrey in his first campaign for mayor of Minneapolis and becoming a friend and advisor to the future U.S. senator and vice president.

He returned to Cloquet to open a law practice and won election to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1950. He held his seat for 10 years and chaired the judiciary committee for the last six years. As his practice grew, he remained active in the state DFL—a highlight was his post as chair of the reception committee for President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Duluth in September of 1963.

In 1973, Yetka was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Gov. Wendell Anderson (’60). During his tenure on the court, he wrote some 500 opinions and was instrumental in overseeing the construction of the Minnesota Judicial Law Center and the establishment of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which began hearing cases in 1983. Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul J. Anderson (’68), Yetka’s friend and colleague, described him to the Minneapolis Star Tribune as a “superb jurist” and a “very astute and dedicated politician.”

Yetka was married to his wife, Ellen, for 64 years; she died in 2015. He is survived by three sons, four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Services were held Nov. 25.

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