Campaign for Legal Aid

. . . . fundraising for justice


Let Us Now Praise . . .


In 1991 the staff of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services in St. Paul began exploring the potential for starting a new annual fundraising drive, the Campaign for Legal Aid. As they talked with board members, volunteer attorneys and community leaders in St. Paul about the idea, one name kept cropping up in every conversation. Virtually everyone said the same thing: If you can get Charlton Dietz, the Chief Legal Officer at 3M Company to lead it, it will succeed.

Dietz, who’s modesty is as legendary as his straight talk, is quick to insist that he was but one part of a troika that included SMRLS’ then Executive Director
Bruce Beneke and Jerry Regnier, a 3M lawyer, and former Executive Director of the Minnesota State Bar Association. He was convinced, he said, to lend his support to legal aid.

But Dietz did much more than simply lend his support: he galvanized a partnership that has endured and grown for 30 years. He is very clear about why he did it:
"When the need for legal representation arises, it does not observe class boundaries.  A just society enables everyone access to the legal system.  That means that the legal profession and community leaders must help provide that access though support of legal aid programs."

Chuck, as he insists on being called, joined 3M in 1952 as a staff member for
The Megaphone, 3M’s in-house newspaper. During his tenure there he attended William Mitchell College of Law at night. Upon graduation he joined 3M’s Office of General Counsel in 1958. He rose to become 3M’s Chief Legal Officer in 1976, a post he held until he retired in 1993.

During and since his time as Chief Legal Officer he became one of those corporate leaders that every community needs. His strong commitment to civic responsibility moved him to take leadership positions on the boards of William Mitchell College of Law, United Way, Macalester College, Wilder Foundation, Minnesota Historical Society Executive Council, Ramsey Country Historical Society, the Boy Scouts and the St. Paul Area YMCA. 

So the call to support access to justice was one that he quickly and easily embraced. It fit well with his commitment to civic responsibility and his sense that justice was not something to be meted out only to those who could afford it.

In 1991, Dietz, along with Beneke, Regnier and others, initiated the Campaign for Legal Aid. This has turned out to be one of the leading efforts in the country to spur private support for legal aid. That Campaign has, over the past 20 years, raised well over $10 million of private funding.

Dietz’s role in the SMRLS Campaign cannot be overemphasized. He has always been a major rainmaker for the Campaign. When he called on attorneys, law firms, foundations and others, they responded. It’s clear that without his involvement, the Campaign would not have achieved its current high level of success. The word is that it is likely to break the $1 million mark this year.

In “retirement,” Dietz remains active in numerous community organizations. Thankfully, that continues to include serving on the Leadership Committee of the SMRLS Campaign.

Joe Otterstetter
Joe Otterstetter serves in the 3M Office of General Counsel and also works long hours on the SMRLS Campaign for Legal Aid
Dennis Dorgan also contributed to this article