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Gordon Sinykin, the senior partner of one of the state's most respected law firms, died today at the age of 80.


He was long active in a host of charitable, legal and civic organizations and was a longtime member of the board of directors of The Capital Times.


Mr. Sinykin, who along with the late Gov. Philip La Follette established the La Follette and Sinykin law partnership here after World War II, died at 2 this morning at University Hospital after suffering kidney failure earlier in the week.


His family announced today that a memorial service will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at Temple Beth El, 2702 Arbor Dr.


Along with heading a law firm that grew from a modest beginning to include more than 30 attorneys today, Mr. Sinykin served numerous community organizations and was instrumental in keeping afloat The Progressive magazine.


He also devoted countless hours to various committees and commissions in legal circles, most of them aimed at finding pioneering ways to improve the law profession he so loved.


While his interests ranged from figure skating to muskie fishing to fencing, it was his work as a professional - and his work to improve that profession - for which he was best known in the city and state.


''He was a lawyer's lawyer,'' said Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Heffernan, a friend of Mr. Sinykin's for nearly five decades.


''He was very much concerned with the ethics of the profession,'' Heffernan said. ''He was one of the great figures in American law of the last 50 years. It is a tremendous loss to the whole legal profession.''


Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who was a partner in the Sinykin firm, said, ''Gordon Sinykin was a lawyer of statewide and national renown, and deservedly so. He exemplified the best of the profesison. He was a lawyer of great skill and imagination and practiced law above the highest ethical standards.


''His clients and associates valued him for his good, sound judgment. Committed to working in the public interest, he gave generously of his time and talent to the profession and to the community. Gordon Sinykin was my law partner, teacher, role model and good friend for nearly 30 years. Those of us who have had the opportunity to share part of our lives with him, Dorothy and the Sinykin children have been enriched by that experience.''


Mr. Sinykin was instrumental in forming the integrated bar in Wisconsin, and argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court which allowed for formation of the plan under which all lawyers in the state were required to belong to the State Bar. Mr. Sinykin saw the plan as a means of enforcing ethical standards for lawyers throughout the state.


His own law practice was a wide ranging one, and, according to his present partners, he devoted extraordinary energy to cases no matter what their size.


He was also a staunch defender of the First Amendment and under his guidance the La Follette and Sinykin law firm - which has represented The Capital Times since the firm was formed - grew to become the leading law firm in Wisconsin on First Amendment questions as well as open records and open meetings laws.


Progressive magazine Editor Erwin Knoll today recalled Mr. Sinykin's involvement in the magazine's bitter 1979 fight over publication of a story on the makeup of the hydrogen bomb.


That case exemplified both Mr. Sinykin's commitment to free speech and his devotion to The Progressive. He had been associated with the magazine since working on the 1934 campaigns of Phil La Follette, who was running for governor, and U.S. Sen. Robert La Follette Jr.


''We were determined to publish the story,'' Knoll said as he recounted the bomb story fight. ''The federal government was determined to stop publication.''


Knoll said Mr. Sinykin, who was constantly concerned about the magazine's finances, ''spelled out for us in horrifying detail the cost of a lawsuit,'' and warned it could bankrupt the magazine.


''We were stubborn as hell,'' Knoll said of himself and staff. ''So Gordon said, 'All right, if we're going to have a lawsuit let's have a lawsuit, and let's have a great one.' ''


Eventually, the magazine prevailed in what was one of the most important First Amendment cases of the past several decades.


Attorney Earl Munson, a senior partner in the firm, compared Mr. Sinykin to ''an Old World craftsman who lovingly crafts a piece of furniture. That's the way Gordon practiced law.'' And to continue that analogy, Munson said, that is also how Sinykin dealt with young lawyers.


''He was like the old craftsman teaching the young apprentice, sharing his ideas year after year. That's the way he operated the firm. He loved to help the young lawyers and he loved to practice law.


''We have lost a mentor,'' Munson said.


Publisher of The Capital Times Frederick W. Miller said Mr. Sinykin's ''counsel and guidance will be greatly missed'' at the newspaper. Along with serving the newspaper as its attorney for more than 40 years, Mr. Sinykin was also the personal attorney of the late William T. Evjue, founder of the paper.


''He had the highest integrity and was a credit to his profession. His professional association with The Capital Times for over 30 years as an officer and director of the company will be missed by all of us,'' Miller said.


Mr. Sinykin was born in Madison in 1910 and was a graduate of the old Central High School and the University of Wisconsin. He earned his law degree at the UW in 1933 and was a member of the Order of the Coif as well as chief editor of the Wisconsin Law Review.


Shortly after that he began working with the La Follettes and was executive counsel to Gov. Philip La Follette from 1935 to 1938. Before serving in World War II, Mr. Sinykin was a member of the old law firm of La Follette, Rogers and Roberts.


During World War II Mr. Sinykin served on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's staff in the Pacific war and had the distinction of being the first Allied officer to enter Tokyo as the war was coming to an end. He was sent into the city before the war was officially over to commandeer hotel rooms for use by MacArthur and his staff, then returned to the U.S.S. Missouri to witness the official surrender by the Japanese. He was the recipient of a Bronze Star for his military service.


After setting up law practice with Phil La Follette following the war, Mr. Sinykin became involved in numerous civic activities and served on the mayor's Commission on Human Rights, the old Community Trust Fund and the Methodist Hospital board of dirctors.


He was also a former president of the Dane County Bar Association and was on the Board of Governors of the State Bar Association. He served on and headed numerous committees and sections for the local, state and American bar associations.


He also served on a Legislative Counsel committee to rewrite insurance laws and was a member of the state Judicial Commission, the group which oversees the ethical conduct of judges, from 1978 to 1986.


Mr. Sinykin is survived by his wife, Dorothy; two sons, Daniel and Philip; a daughter Susan Anderson; and six grandchildren. He is also survived by two sisters, Ida Stein and Della Behr, both of Madison.


Capital Times, The (Madison, WI)

Date: January 25, 1991








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