John Baker builds cases for clients, and advises them of legal risks and potential solutions. He is one of the founding attorneys of Greene Espel. He has practiced law in Minnesota since 1988. After making a name for himself as an exceptional brief writer, he became an appellate advocate and trial attorney.
Other attorneys often request him to seek reversals for their clients on appeal or to protect the results obtained in the trial court. John has presented oral argument on appeal more than 30 times. While John has significant experience in private and public-sector matters, he is best known as an advocate, author, and speaker on constitutional law, land-use litigation, appellate practice, First Amendment law, and defamation. He routinely receives and accepts invitations to speak at annual state and national programs on topics related to one of these areas of focus.
John frequently assists attorneys to prepare for high-stakes appellate arguments. As part of that work he has served as a justice in moot courts for attorneys from Washington D.C., Georgia, Wisconsin, and Texas in matters before the United States Supreme Court, and has worked with more than one dozen attorneys in preparing for arguments to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
- J.D., University of Michigan Law School, cum laude
- B.A., University of Iowa, with High Distinction
- Hancher-Finkbine Medallion Recipient
- Popham, Haik, Schnobrich & Kaufman, Ltd., Minneapolis, Minnesota, Associate, Litigation Department
- Law Clerk, United States District Court, Northern and Southern Districts of Iowa, The Honorable Donald E. O’Brien, Chief Judge
- U.S. Supreme Court
- U.S. Courts of Appeals for the First, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits
- U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota
- U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
- U.S. Court of Federal Claims
- State Bar of Minnesota
- Eighth Circuit Bar Association, President (2018)
- Minnesota State Bar Association, Appellate Practice Section
- American Bar Association
- Hennepin County Bar Association
John's Practice Areas
AppellateExplore Practice Area
“What’s next?” Greene Espel can guide you through the appellate process, providing an objective assessment of the pivotal issues, developing a strategy based on how appellate judges are likely to view a case in light of legal, institutional, and policy considerations, and advocating effectively.
Constitutional LitigationExplore Practice Area
Constitutional litigation is a cornerstone of Greene Espel’s practice. We represent individuals, private businesses, and government entities where their actions raise constitutional issues.
Elections and RedistrictingExplore Practice Area
Greene Espel takes on attacks to voting rights and democratic institutions—and wins. We take on lawsuits to tackle voter suppression, election subversion, and districting issues.
Local Government DefenseExplore Practice Area
Local government defense is a cornerstone of Greene Espel’s practice.
Cases & Wins
- Fairbrook Leasing Inc. v. Mesaba Aviation, Inc., 519 F.3d 421 (8th Cir. 2008). Obtained ruling affirming entry of summary judgment on behalf of defendant on $35 million claim for damages arising from alleged breach of term sheet regarding purchase of thirty jets and leasing of twenty additional jets.
FEDERAL JURISDICTION AND TAKING CLAIMS
- Kottschade v. City of Rochester, 319 F.3d 1038 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 825 (2003). Defeated “test case” created by property rights groups seeking to expand federal jurisdiction over ordinary claims that local regulations of land use constitute takings of property for which the owner receives compensation and attorneys fees.
FIRST AMENDMENT LITIGATION
- Advantage Media LLC v. City of Eden Prairie, 405 F. Supp. 2d 1037 (D. Minn. 2005), aff’d, 456 F.3d 793 (8th Cir. 2006). Obtained summary judgment against billboard company’s groundbreaking effort to secure standing to invalidate entire sign code under multiple theories.
- Co-author of amicus briefs filed on behalf of the American Planning Association, International Municipal Lawyers Association, and other organizations, in the following federal appeals: Tanner Outdoor Advertising v. Fayette County, GA (11th Cir.), Prime Media v. City of Brentwood, TN (6th Cir.) Get Outdoors II v. City of San Diego, CA (9th Cir.), Naser Jewelers Inc. v. City of Concord, NH (1st Cir.), RTM Media LLC v. City of Houston (5th Cir.) and Midwest Media Property LLC v. City of Erlinger, Kentucky and City of Ft. Wright, Kentucky (6th Cir.).
- Workman v. Serrano et al., 2006 WL 771580, 34 Media L. Rep. 1577, (Minn. Ct. App. March 28, 2006). Overturned jury award totaling $625,500 in favor of an elected official and against weekly newspaper, its affiliates, and its editorial page editor, based in part on First Amendment-protected nature of the allegedly defamatory editorial.
LAND USE AND ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW
- Nicollet Plaza, LLC v. City of Burnsville et al., 2019 WL 3410037 (Minn. Ct. App. July 29, 2019), review denied (Oct. 15, 2019). Representing a city that amended a planned unit development to enable a vacant lot in an otherwise completed development to be used to build rental apartments rather than owner-occupied condominiums, we obtained summary judgment, an affirmance on appeal, and a denial of Minnesota Supreme Court review.
- Hoyt v. City of St. Anthony Village, 2019 WL 2212147 (D. Minn. May 22, 2019). Obtained dismissal of claims by a disappointed housing development applicant against a city and two officials under Minnesota law, the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the Fair Housing Act.
- Friends of Twin Lakes v. City of Roseville, 764 N.W.2d 378 (Minn. App. 2009). Representing a city, we successfully defended a negative declaration on the need for an environmental impact statement under the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act for a development plan, and upholding the City’s consideration of pre-existing regulatory oversight when determining that the proposed plan does not have the potential to create significant environmental effects.
- Iowa Coal Mining Co, Inc. v. Monroe County, Iowa, 257 F.3d 846 (8th Cir. 2001). At summary judgment stage, and on appeal, defended County and its zoning officials from constitutional and state-law claims arising from denial of permission to create 460 acres of landfill space.
LOCAL REGULATION OR FINANCING OF TELECOMMUNICATION SYSTEMS
- Mediacom Minnesota, LLC v. City of Prior Lake, 2010 WL 3744638 (Minn. Ct. App. 2010). On certiorari, successfully defended city’s award of a second cable television franchise.
- Bridgewater Telephone Co. v. City of Monticello, 765 N.W.2d 905 (Minn. Ct. App. 2009), review denied (Minn. Jun. 16, 2009). Obtained an order dismissing telephone company’s lawsuit alleging that the City’s plans to construct a high-speed Internet/telephone/cable system were unlawful because such a system is not a “utility or other public convenience from which a revenue may be derived,” within the meaning of the relevant Minnesota statutes. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, and two weeks later, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued an expedited decision denying the telephone company's petition for review of the Minnesota Court of Appeals' decision. Following the supreme court’s denial of review, Greene Espel obtained a $1.5 million settlement in favor of the City of Monticello, based on the surety bond order it had secured from the district court. The surety bond was conditioned for payment to the City of any loss or damage caused to the City or its taxpayers resulting from the pendency of Bridgewater’s lawsuit.
OTHER CONSTITUTIONAL LITIGATION
- McCaughtry, et al. v. City of Red Wing, 831 N.W.2d 518 (Minn. 2013). Represented the City of Red Wing in a lawsuit brought by several landlords and tenants challenging the constitutionality of the City’s rental-housing inspection ordinance. The Minnesota Court of Appeals, followed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of the City and dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims.
- Olivier v. Willers, 2016 WL 1275032 (D. Minn. Mar. 31, 2016). Received summary judgment on behalf of a county deputy sheriff accused of violating protest group members’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by allegedly enabling them to use controlled substances as participants in a drug recognition training program.
- Nielson, et al. v. City of Roseville, No. 98-1625 (D. Minn. 1999 and 2000), and 2001 WL 1640040 (D. Minn. 2001). After partial summary judgment and a fifteen-day trial, won successful jury verdict rejecting claim that City's forgivable loan was motivated by an unconstitutional purpose, and successful court judgment affirming city's compliance with state tax-increment financing act.
- Rochester City Lines Co. v. City of Rochester, 913 N.W.2d 443 (Minn. 2018), on remand, 2018 WL 4956966 (Minn. Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2018). Obtained reversal of lower court ruling against the City of Rochester that had found a transit procurement was illegal because procurement evaluation committee members who had been accused of bias against an incumbent provider in 2012 participated in the 2016 evaluation (in which the same company had submitted a bid for the next contract).
- Rochester City Lines Co. v. City of Rochester, 2018 WL 4956966 (Minn. Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2018), on remand from Rochester City Lines, Co. v. City of Rochester, 868 N.W.2d 655 (Minn. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 849 (2016). Defeated incumbent transit provider’s state law and constitutional claims against the City of Rochester arising from the City’s compliance with a federal competitive bidding requirement. The case included appeals to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court and a seven-day bench trial.
John's Recognition & Awards
- 2021 ICON honoree, Minnesota Lawyer and Finance & Commerce
- 2021 President's Award: Outstanding Associate Member Award, International Municipal Lawyers Association
- Recognized as Minnesota State Bar Association North Star Lawyer for pro bono service (2020-2021)
- Listed in The Best Lawyers in America (2015-2024)
- Lawyer of the Year (2020, 2023)
- Selected to Super Lawyers list, Minnesota Super Lawyers (2003-2023)
- Selected to Top 100 Super Lawyers list, Minnesota Super Lawyers (2022-2023)
- Amicus Service Award, International Municipal Lawyers Association (2012, 2016-17, 2019)
- Selected to list of "Top 25 Appellate Law Super Lawyers," Minnesota Journal of Law and Politics (2005)
John's Community Involvement
- American Planning Association
- Chair, Amicus Committee
- Sensible Land Use Coalition
- University of Iowa Political Science Department, Advisory Board
John also served as the prosecutorial misconduct team leader of the pro bono partnership that overturned the conviction and death sentence of Florida inmate Donald Gunsby. See State v. Gunsby, 670 So. 2d 920 (Fla. 1996).