Class of 1994
The Wall Street Journal
Law Blog Lawyer of the Day: Christopher Renz
Posted by Peter Lattman
Christopher Renz can keep a secret.
For most of the summer, the Minneapolis lawyer harbored this juicy tidbit: U.S. Senator Larry Craig had been arrested in an airport-bathroom stall as a part of a sex-sting operation.
Here’s the backstory: In late June, Renz received a call from the Metropolitan Airport Commission. His firm, Thomsen & Nybeck, handles cases for the MAC, which outsources its prosecution services. Renz runs the relationship.
On the call, he was told there had been an arrest involving a U.S. senator. The MAC expressed concern that the sensitive case could be leaked. Renz only told an assistant and a colleague about it. For two-and-a-half months, Craig’s arrest stayed undetected in the airport commission’s public records until late August, when Roll Call caught wind of the police report and went public with the story.
“It wasn’t our job to tell the public about it,” says Renz. “Everybody else in these cases had some anonymity. These cases aren’t some Scarlet Letter deal where we mete out some kind of public humiliation.”
As has been detailed in court fillings, Renz received a call from Senator Craig the same day he first heard about the case. He says he laid out the senator’s options in the initial call, and then spoke with him several more times during July. In early August, Craig mailed in the plea petition with his signature on the “guilty” line, accompanied by a $575 money order for his fine and court costs, as well as a thank-you note.
And that was the end of it. Or so Renz thought.
“When the story leaked, I found it remarkable that Chris had known about this for months and never told anyone,” said Gretchen Schellhas, the chief executive of the 18-lawyer firm. “But Chris takes his job extremely seriously, and no around here is surprised that he handled the case in the way he did.”
Craig first said he intended to step down from the senate, but changed his mind and had his lawyer, Billy Martin, ask the court to have his guilty plea withdrawn. Renz filed response papers, and then prepared for the most widely watched hearing of his career. On Sept. 26, Renz walked past a crowd of cameras and protestors at the Hennepin County courthouse into a packed courtroom.
“It was strange,” said Renz, “This was the same suburban courthouse I’ve been going to for years. Nobody’s ever there.”
Was he nervous?
“Yeah I was nervous,” he said. “First, there’s Billy Martin on the other side, and he’s a pretty accomplished attorney. Second, for me there was pressure because everybody knew this was happening. Even if I lost, I wanted to do a good job.”
Last week, Judge Charles Porter issued an order denying the withdrawal motion.
As for Craig’s decision to stay in office, Renz says it’s Craig’s personal decision and he takes no position on it. “I am glad that a conviction on a plea that was validly entered stands and it’s up to him to determine what effect that has on him and his politicial career,” he said. “That’s nothing for me to weigh in on.”
Renz, 31 years old, was raised in Granby, Colo., and moved to Minnesota for college, graduating from St. Olaf. A handful of “Oles” practice at Thomsen & Nybeck, and during college summers Renz began interning at the firm. While at Minnesota Law, he twice summered there before joining the firm fulltime in 2001. He became a shareholder (i.e., partner) last year.
“I really never wished for this case to have become public,” says Renz, who lives in South Minneapolis with his wife and two young children. “But the public does have a right to know if someone’s been convicted of a crime. It was an interesting experience dealing with so much media attention but it’s nothing I have ever clamored for. So I’ll just take the experience for what it was worth and move on.”
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