Minneapolis defense lawyer Ron Meshbesher dies at 85

Minneapolis attorney Ron Meshbesher, who began his decades-long legal career as a Hennepin County prosecutor and retired as one of Minnesota’s best-known defense lawyers, died Wednesday at age 85.

Meshbesher suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in the last years of his life and had moved into an assisted-living facility in Deephaven a few months ago, his brother said.

Meshbesher became a household name in the late 1970s when he won an acquittal for Marjorie Caldwell, who was accused of orchestrating the murder of her mother, Elizabeth Congdon, and a nurse at the Glensheen mansion in Duluth. This was just one of the roughly 70 trials Meshbesher would win over the course of his 57-year career, according to Minnesota Lawyer Magazine.

It wasn’t just juries who Meshbesher won over.

Mark Streed, his longtime partner at the firm of Meshbesher & Spence, said in an emailed statement that Meshbesher was loved by all who knew him.

“Ron was obviously a great trial lawyer and one of the biggest reasons was his amazing ability to connect with people — ALL people,” Streed wrote. “When you talked to him, he listened and made you feel truly special. As a law partner, he was a benevolent leader.”

Meshbesher retired in 2014.

Born in Minneapolis in 1933, Ronald I. Meshbesher knew growing up on the city’s north side that he wanted to practice law, receiving encouragement from his father, according to an oral history interview he gave to the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest.

“I always wanted to be a lawyer from the time I can remember,” he said. “And I started going to court when I was a teenager and watching trials. … If there was an interesting case that was in the paper, I’d go and watch it.”

His singular focus on pursuing a legal career even inspired his younger brother, Ken, to do the same. The two would eventually go into business together.

“He was very special and I always looked up to him,” Ken Meshbesher said. “He was not only my brother, but he was always my closest friend.”

Ron Meshbesher graduated from Minneapolis North High School in 1951, before receiving his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Minnesota. At 24, he began practicing as a prosecutor for the Hennepin County attorney’s office, where he tried 45 felony cases in his first three years with a conviction rate of 92 percent, according to the Meshbesher & Spence website.

But it was as a defense attorney that Meshbesher shined brightest. He went into private practice in 1961 and founded the firm that would become Meshbesher & Spence a short time later with Ken and a handful of partners.

Ron Meshbesher quickly earned a reputation as a high-caliber trial lawyer, handling such front-page cases as the Virginia Piper kidnapping, Ken Meshbesher said. But it was Caldwell’s acquittal in 1979 that probably brought the most publicity, he added.

Ron Meshbesher would go on to represent dozens of other high-profile clients over the next three and a half decades, eventually earning a level of name recognition enjoyed by only a handful of local attorneys.

He was even name-checked in Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2009 film “A Serious Man,” which the St. Louis Park natives set in their hometown. When a character in the film needs legal advice, he’s advised to seek out Ron Meshbesher.

“He was a giant who left a great legacy,” Streed said in his email. “He will be missed.”

In addition to his brother, Meshbesher is survived by his wife and four daughters.

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