Edward James Devitt, the son of a railroad round-house foreman, was born May 5, 1911 in St. Paul, Minnesota. All four of his grandparents were born in Ireland. He attended St. John's Preparatory School and then St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, after which he earned a Bachelor of Law degree at the University of North Dakota in 1935, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Commerce in 1938. Elected a municipal judge in East Grand Forks, MN in November, 1935, Devitt drew mention in a national "Believe It or Not" syndicated news feature as the youngest judge in the USA. Named an assistant attorney general in Minnesota in 1939, he also taught at the UND Law School.
During the Second World War, Devitt became a US Navy intelligence officer. Lt. Cdr. Devitt was the sole survivor of a kamikaze hit upon the radio compartment of the destroyer Caldwell in December 1944. Recovering after a six month hospital stay, he received a Purple Heart for injuries from this raid.
Elected to the US House of Representatives from St. Paul in 1946 (R, Minn.), Devitt served on the House Judiciary Committee. Defeated for re-election by Eugene McCarthy in 1948, Devitt practiced law in St. Paul until his election as Ramsey County Probate Judge in 1950. In 1954, Devitt was appointed a federal judge on the US District Court for Minnesota. Serving as Chief US District Judge for Minnesota since 1958, Devitt officially retired in 1981, but continued to hear numerous cases as a senior judge. Judge Devitt died March 2, 1992. His funeral, held in the St. Paul Cathedral, was attended by over 1,200 mourners.
During his lengthy tenure on the US District Court, Devitt became probably the most respected and influential district court judge in the nation. His decisions were seldom reversed on appeal. His booklet "Ten Commandments for the New Judge", written in 1961, has become standard reading. Among his most noted innovations was the use of six-person juries in federal civil cases; a practice that has since come to be used in nearly all of the 95 US District Courts nationwide. Judge Devitt is also co-author of Federal Jury Practice and Instructions, the standard reference book on this subject. During the years 1967-1971, Judge Devitt chaired the American Bar Association Legal Advisory Committee on Fair Trial - Free Press, which developed guidelines for news media and the bench in sensational cases so as to avoid prejudicial publicity that would prevent a fair trial.
Judge Devitt repeatedly turned aside opportunities for promotion to appellate courts or to other positions removed from trial law. Dedicated to improving the judicial art, Devitt sought to write decisions and opinions which could be easily understood by those not trained in legal terminology. An active Catholic, Judge Devitt urged his fellow jurists to pray for divine guidance since "judges need that help more than anyone else."
West Publishing, a respected publisher in the field of law, in 1982 inaugurated the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award. This annual award, with a prize of $15,000, is given to the nation's foremost federal judge, as determined by a selection panel which frequently includes justices on the US Supreme Court. Judge Devitt served as Permanent Chairman of this selection panel.
Among Judge Devitt's most notable cases were the 1961 racketeering trial of Minneapolis gangster Isadore (Kid Cann) Blumenfeld, the 1963 fraud trial of former Minneapolis mayor Marvin Kline, the trial of the "Minnesota Eight" resisters of the Vietnam era draft, and the Reserve Mining environmental pollution trial of the mid 1970s. Judge Devitt also presided over several major organized crime trials in California and other states.
Donation; Acc.92-1822 and Acc.92-1823
The Judge Edward J. Devitt Papers date from 1927-1992 and have been divided into three series:
Series 1: Biographical Materials
Series 2: Criminal Cases
Series 3: Civil Cases