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Breaking the Ice: Daniel Gustafson: Class actions level the playing field

Daniel E. Gustafson, a founding member of the Gustafson Gluek firm in Minneapolis, was among attorneys who helped reach a settlement for tens of thousands of farmers in Minnesota and other states in their class-action suit against Syngenta Seeds LLC.

Farmers claimed they lost $450 million in sales because Syngenta brought a genetically modified corn seed to market too soon and without Chinese approval. The settlement was announced last month during the third week of testimony in a trial in Minneapolis.

The settlement establishes parameters for seed companies’ conduct, Gustafson said. “They should know that farmers will seek to hold them liable if they do things that are inconsistent with farmers’ interests,” he said.

While many criticize class actions, Gustafson said, they level the legal playing field.

“They allow somebody who has a relatively small claim to pool their efforts with somebody else to sue a company where there otherwise would be a legal mismatch,” Gustafson said.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Just say hello.

Q. What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A. I didn’t have a lifelong plan to be a lawyer. I was in college and thought I would take the LSAT and if I did well I’d go to law school, and that’s what I did. The rest of it fell into place.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I mostly read fiction that doesn’t require much thought because I spend a lot of time reading things that matter. The St. Paul author who writes the “Prey” books, John Sandford, I read his stuff and those kinds of books.

Q. What are your most favorite and least favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A. The most favorite part is the satisfaction you get from doing a nice job for your clients, particularly helping people that need the services of a lawyer. The least favorite part of it is that much of the law is driven by business realities, which puts pressure on some of the professional judgments.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. My favorite is my family. I have three kids and three grandkids. I like hanging out with all of them.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. Minneapolis is my hometown. I would take them to a lake for sure if it was somebody from out of state. The Chain of Lakes, I’d show them that and Minnehaha Falls.

Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most? Why?

A. When I was a young lawyer, I worked a lot against [the late] John French at then Faegre & Benson, now Faegre Baker Daniels. I always admired him in terms of his professionalism and respect for other people. Even though he was against you, he was always kind and respectful. I’ve always thought that the profession of law was something you could do vigorously without doing it disrespectfully or aggressively.

Q. What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A. One perception in this county is that we have too much litigation, that we should disenfranchise the people who sue so that we don’t have so much litigation. Whenever a big company gets sued by people who are harmed by their products or hurt by their misdeeds, they complain about class actions and how legal system is being abused. But when those same companies want to protect a patent or they have a breach of contract with one of their competitors, they’re quick to run into court and use the judicial system to discharge or protect their rights.

Q. What if any is your favorite depiction of the law, the legal professional in popular culture (books, films, TV)?

A. I tend to stay away from that but I thought “Boston Legal” was hilarious. It was an interesting combination of cutting edge social issues with an odd twist of humor.

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