U.S. Ambassador to Norway: Who Is Samuel Heins?

Saturday, October 17, 2015
Samuel Heins (photo: University of Minnesota)

President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate Samuel Heins, a major contributor and bundler to the president’s election campaigns, to be the next ambassador to Norway. The move came after Obama’s previous nominee of another contributor, George Tsunis, was withdrawn.


Heins is the son of Maurice, a mathematics professor, and Hadassah Wagman Heins. While his father taught at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Heins attended the university’s Laboratory School, graduating in 1964. He then went on to the University of Minnesota, where he was an editor, along with future A Prairie Home Companion star Garrison Keillor and others, of the undergraduate literary magazine. Heins earned a BA in 1968 and his JD in 1972, then clerked for U.S. District Judge Earl Larson in Minneapolis until 1973, when he became an associate at the Firestone Law Firm.


Heins moved out in 1976 and became a partner at Tanick and Heins in Minneapolis. While there, he represented Keillor in a 1988 suit against NPR, which, he claimed, was selling unauthorized audiotapes of a Keillor speech. The suit was settled when NPR agreed not to sell more cassettes and to refund the cost to those who had purchased them.


In 1989, Heins moved to Opperman, Heins and Paquin and five years later left that firm, taking his name to Heins, Mills & Olson (HMO), a firm specializing in securities fraud, antitrust cases and class actions. One of his first big suits there was an antitrust action against airlines charged with fixing travel agents’ commissions. That suit was settled. Another suit against Broadcom in 2005 brought in $37.5 million in fees to the firm.


Another suit that was to bring millions of dollars—and a little trouble—to Heins’ firm was against AOL Time Warner, which was accused to inflating its membership numbers causing the stock price to increase. HMO represented the Minnesota Board of Investments, which was the lead plaintiff, and the case was expanded to represent thousands of other shareholders. The suit was eventually settled for $2.65 billion. The firm received a big cut of that with Heins getting $48 million and his partner and wife, Stacey Mills, getting $35 million. The trouble came when a lower-level partner, Brian Williams, received only $4.5 million, much less than he had expected. He took the firm to court and eventually was awarded $1.6 million more. It was revealed during the suit that when another HMO attorney, Al Gilbert, questioned the amount of his payout, asking why he didn’t get more, Heins responded “Because it’s my goddamn law firm!” Heins left the firm in 2013.


Aside from his legal work, Heins also has been active in human rights campaigns. In 1983 he co-founded The Advocates for Human Rights and served as its first board chair and in 1985 he helped found the Center for Victims of Torture. Heins human rights work also includes the Ploughshares Fund, where he serves as a board member, and the PEN American Center, as a trustee


As for his nomination as ambassador to Norway, it’s believed that Heins might be a more acceptable choice than Long Islander and hotelier Tsunis, who was criticized for his seeming ignorance of the kingdom, raising the possibility that he might even damage U.S. relations with the country. Heins’ connection to Minnesota helps because the state has the largest population of Norwegians outside Norway.


In the last election, Heins and Mills gave $5,000 each to Obama’s re-election campaign and bundled more than $1 million more in donations. He has two grown daughters from his marriage with his first wife, Dianne Hogg, also an attorney. He speaks French.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Official Announcement

Because It’s My Goddamn Law Firm (by Scott Carlson, Minnesota Law & Politics)


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