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Back Story: In Memoriam: Hon. E.M. "Al" Gunderson (1929-2010)

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IN MEMORIAM:
BY M. SCOTT MCKENNA, ESq.
HON. E.M. “AL” GUNDERSON (1929-2010)
During his 18 years on the Nevada Supreme E.M. “Al” Gunderson was born of Norwegian Court, a career that spanned more than 13,000 heritage in Minneapolis, Minnesota on August cases, Gunderson made friends as well as enemies. 9, 1929. According to former law clerks and According to John L. Smith of the Las Vegas associates, Gunderson’s journey toward ultimately Review-Journal, Gunderson was, to his friends, “an serving as a justice on the Nevada Supreme almost mythical American character come to life, Court was a circuitous and unlikely one, marked a pugnacious courthouse colossus who, as chief principally by hard work, but also by several justice of the state Supreme Court, detours along the way. never ducked a donnybrook and As reported in the Las Vegas “Gunderson is meted out Nevada-style justice Review-Journal, attorney Bill remembered as a honorably and with either fist.” Curran, who began his legal career by clerking for Gunderson, said of staunch civil rights As explained by a longtime friend, Gunderson “could be a bully, but the jurist, “He came from the wrong advocate who in his mind he was standing up for side of the tracks. He not only didn’t finish high school, he didn’t finish easily made friends people that the people he was going after were persecuting. With all the several high schools.” Thus, after with common folk, power he had, he never really used completing his high school G.E.D., it for personal gain.” Gunderson displayed it proudly regardless of race During his time on the Nevada along with his diplomas from or income status.” Supreme Court, Gunderson also university and law school. continued to further his legal Newspaper reports indicate education, receiving his L.L.D. from the California that Gunderson was particularly proud of having Western School of Law in 1980 and his LL.M. served his country as a paratrooper during the from the University of Virginia in 1982. Notably, Korean War. A 1992 story published in the Las Gunderson was also instrumental in creating the Vegas Sun states that Gunderson was a parachute Nevada Judges Foundation, an entity established rifleman in the U.S. Army’s 11th Airborne Division, to train individuals without law degrees who his military service interrupting undergraduate served as justices of the peace and on municipal studies at the University of Minnesota (1949; 1951) courts in Nevada. and University of Omaha (1947-48; 1952). After retiring from the Nevada Supreme Court, According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Gunderson continued his service to the law. He after undergraduate school Gunderson initially worked part-time as a senior justice and accepted a planned to travel to the West Coast to pursue professorship at Southwestern University Law School. a maritime career, but stopped in Las Vegas. As opined in the Las Vegas Sun, “Gunderson is Gunderson worked in the casino industry for a remembered as a staunch civil rights advocate who year, earning $7 per shift, before resuming his easily made friends with common folk, regardless of education. Gunderson graduated with his J.D. in race or income status.” According to the Associated 1956 from the Creighton University School of Law Press, Lupe, Gunderson’s wife of 45 years, said her in Omaha, Nebraska. husband was a champion for the underdog who tried Following his graduation from Creighton to ensure everyone was treated fairly under the law. and an additional year of legal studies at the John Marshall School of Law in 1957, Gunderson returned to Nevada to practice law in 1958. After practicing law for 12 years, Gunderson was elected M. Scott McKenna is a senior principal deputy legislative to the Nevada Supreme Court in November of 1970, counsel with the legal division of the Legislative Counsel taking his place on the court in 1971. Gunderson Bureau. He graduated from the Northwestern School of Law of Lewis and Clark College in 1995, holding a certificate of served on the high court from 1971 through 1989, specialization in environmental law. including three terms as chief justice.
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Nevada Lawyer
June 2010

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