Two esteemed Minnesota judges and a solo practitioner whose pro bono work included helping start Mitchell Hamline’s Self Help Clinic are being honored with this year’s alumni awards from the Mitchell Hamline Alumni Association.
Judge Leo Brisbois ’87 is receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award for his long tenure of public service and volunteer work. Judge John Rodenberg ’81 is the recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award for his dedication to Mitchell Hamline’s Institute to Transform Child Protection. Sarah Soucie Eyberg ‘11 is being honored with the Recent Alumni Award for her pro bono work and efforts to get clients Social Security Disability benefits.
“All three of this year’s recipients have given back generously to the profession,” said Allison Burke, Mitchell Hamline’s director of development and alumni relations. “Through their time, focus, and dedication, they have worked to bring the practice of law closer to its ideals.”
Distinguished Alumni Award – Judge Leo Brisbois
Recognizing alumni who demonstrate the highest values and ethical standards in achieving professional distinction or lasting contributions to their field of endeavor, including professional accomplishments of a distinctly creative or challenging nature or outstanding leadership within the profession.
As a young attorney, Leo Brisbois understood the importance of giving back, a value instilled in him in his family and culture growing up on the White Earth Tribal Reservation in northern Minnesota.
At Hamline University School of Law, where he earned his J.D. in 1987, Brisbois endowed a scholarship fund for first-year American Indian students. He’s the first person of known American Indian descent to be named president of the Minnesota State Bar Association, which he served before his appointment as a U.S magistrate judge for the District of Minnesota in Duluth in 1990.
He also served in the Judge Advocate General Corps from 1987-1990 as an Army captain on the staff of the senior legal adviser to the commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe. In that capacity, he served as a member of the Department of Defense Advisory Committee on Investigation, Prosecution and Defense of Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces.
In addition to his legal and judicial work, Brisbois also works with several nonprofit organizations, often in leadership roles. They include the American Indian Policy Center, Indian Child Welfare Law Center, Anishinaabe Legal Services, and Children’s Theater Company of Minnesota. He also serves in several voluntary bar associations, including the Minnesota American Indian Bar and National Native American Bar Association (NNABA).
Outstanding Alumni Award – John Rodenberg
Recognizing alumni who have demonstrated commitment to the school.
John Rodenberg, a retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, has worked tirelessly on issues relating to Minnesota’s child welfare system and was on the initial Advisory Board of William Mitchell’s Child Protection Clinic in 2010. That clinic is now part of the Institute to Transform Child Protection.
Judge Rodenberg “regularly participates with students in our class, presents at our trainings, and acts as a mentor and wise sage to faculty and staff in the institute as we navigate litigation, policy, and advocacy,” said Joanna Woolman, the institute’s director, who nominated Rodenberg for the award. Rodenberg was also a longtime member of the school’s Alumni Board; he also leads a class on appellate advocacy each semester.
A former private practice attorney and one-time apple orchard owner, Rodenberg was appointed a state district court judge in 2000 and served for 12 years before being appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals by Governor Mark Dayton. He was reelected in 2014 and retired in 2020.
He was part of a working group in 2008 that made significant recommendations relating to parent representation in the state and served on the Children’s Justice Initiative Advisory Board.
“Judge Rodenberg exemplifies the very best of Mitchell Hamline’s values and mission,” added Woolman. “He’s dedicated to the pursuit of justice for those who are marginalized, he works diligently with students and young attorneys to help them find their way as they become attorneys, and he is committed to helping Mitchell Hamline be the best law school it can be.”
Recent Alumni Award – Sarah Soucie Eyberg
Recognizing alumni who have made significant contributions to their community, Mitchell Hamline, and/or the legal profession within the first 10 years following graduation.
Sarah Soucie Eyberg has been a solo practitioner for several years, focused on helping out-of-work people access Social Security Disability benefits.
It’s important work, but only a sample of the work she does to better the legal profession, according to Landon Ascheman ’09, who has served on several committees with Soucie Eyberg.
She’s also an adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline, where Ascheman has “personally seen her helping students and new grads that are at a breaking point and just don’t know what to do or where to turn.
“Sarah has talked them through what needs to be done and helped them find the ongoing help that they need.”
Soucie Eyberg’s time as an attorney has included significant pro bono and volunteer work, including with the Minnesota Justice Foundation. She also helped create what is now Mitchell Hamline’s Self Help Clinic and has worked with many students in that and other capacities.
Soucie Eyberg is also a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Executive Committee, and she has served on several of the bar’s committees, including the Social Security Disability Law Section and the New Lawyers Section.
A longtime member of the Phi Alpha Delta (PAD) Law Fraternity, Soucie Eyberg also helped grow Mitchell Hamline’s chapter when she was a student. In addition to being an adjunct, she has also worked with the Reentry Clinic to help female prisoners in Minnesota navigate civil legal issues as they reenter their communities.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a candidate,” added Ascheman, “who more fully meets the requirements of significant career, leadership, and service contributions to their community and the legal profession.”