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James C. Otis

Associate Justice, 1961-1982

James C. Otis was born on March 23, 1912, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He grew up in the prestigious Cathedral Hill neighborhood and attended Saint Paul Academy. His early ambition was to become a minister, but his family had a tradition of producing lawyers, including his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Therefore, after earning a bachelor’s degree at Yale, he returned to Saint Paul and completed his law degree at the University of Minnesota.        

In 1937, he joined Otis, Faricy, Burger and Moore, the firm originally founded by his grandfather, George L. Otis. Otis practiced at the firm for ten years where he had the opportunity to work alongside his father, three uncles, and Warren E. Burger, who would later become Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  

In 1942, Otis took a short break from practice to serve as a civilian with the U.S, Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. He returned to the firm in 1944, and continued in private practice until 1948, when Governor Luther Youngdahl appointed him to fill a vacant seat on the Ramsey County municipal court. 

In 1954, after serving six years on the municipal court, Otis was appointed to fill the seat vacated by the death of his uncle, Kenneth Gray Brill on the Ramsey County District Court. He held that seat until 1961, when Governor Elmer Andersen appointed him Associate Justice of Minnesota Supreme Court. Justice Otis held the seat through three additional terms before resigning September 1, 1982. 

After leaving the bench, Justice Otis remained active in the community, serving as a trustee of Hamline University, The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, and the Minnesota State Bar Foundation, and also as a member of the American Judicature Society, the Institute of Judicial Administration, and the Nature Conservancy. 

Soon after returning from a hiking trip in Norway and just eight weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Justice Otis died of pneumonia on March 15, 1993.

You may read more about Justice Otis in the resources listed below and in the book, Testimony: Remembering Minnesota’s Supreme Court Justices, which is the source of this brief biography.

James C. Otis Portrait
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