When Minnesota along with Blue Cross and Blue Shield took on the tobacco industry a quarter century ago in a landmark lawsuit, Ramsey County District Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick needed a special master to review thousands of documents from tobacco firms to determine what to allow in court.
Fitzpatrick's choice: attorney Mark W. Gehan Jr., a leader in the Ramsey County and Minnesota bar associations, whose reputation was that of an honest and skilled litigator. But Gehan joked he was chosen because he was "the least objectionable."
Gehan, 76, of St. Paul died June 21 following a cancer diagnosis and a fall resulting in injuries, said his son, Mark H. Gehan.
Roberta Walburn, one of the lead attorneys suing tobacco interests, said documents Gehan ordered to be disclosed showed the industry had suppressed evidence that smoking causes cancer and other illnesses. The case was settled in 1998 with a $7 billion payout by the tobacco industry.
Gehan "was scrupulously fair," Walburn said.
A lifelong St. Paul resident, Gehan attended St. Thomas Military Academy and graduated from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Minnesota Law School. His grandfather, Mark H. Gehan, was mayor of St. Paul from 1938 to 1943, and his father, Mark Sr., was a patent lawyer for 3M Co.
Gehan sang and played guitar in an amateur band that performed in coffee houses in the 1970s, recalled Louis Bartholome, a psychologist and band member. Another friend, Dan Aberg of Sanford, N.C., said Gehan was a strong opponent of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, while Aberg, who enlisted in the Marines, supported the war. But they stayed friends and Gehan was best man at Aberg's wedding.
Gehan became a Ramsey County prosecutor in 1971 before joining the St. Paul law firm of Collins, Buckley, Sauntry & Haugh, where he finished his career in 2014. He considered himself a generalist, with clients including the St. Paul Police Federation and the St. Paul Red Cross.
He was named to the state Judicial Selection Commission by Gov. Jesse Ventura to recommend appointees to the Ramsey County bench, said St. Paul attorney and fellow commissioner Steven Kirsch.
After the Metro Gang Strike Force, a multi-jurisdictional police agency, was shut down in 2009, Gehan again was named a special master. Officers were accused of seizing property from individuals without charging them, and Gehan's job was to award money from a $3 million settlement to some 100 strike force victims.
"My sense was he handled the matter quite fairly and diligently and that we were pleased with the work that the court asked him to do," said lawyer Randy Hopper, who filed the suit.
Gehan was 6 foot, 7 inches tall, said his sister Annie, and "that made an impression on people. He had a very deep authoritative voice. He had a wicked sense of humor that made him more daunting."
At dinner parties, Gehan would pick a serious or silly topic to start a rousing conversation, said his friend Molly Culligan. "He was always clever, and it was always fun to hear his view of things," she said.
Gehan's wife, Lucy, died in 2018. Besides his son Mark and sister, Annie, both of St. Paul, he is survived by a daughter, Alice, St. Paul; sisters Mary Hurley of Shorewood and Jane Gehan of Falcon Heights; brother, John of St. Paul; and three grandchildren. A celebration of life has been held.