“When I represent someone, I try to understand who they are, which helps me serve their interests better.”
In many ways, I was destined for criminal defense. As the son of a criminal defense lawyer, I grew up hearing stories about courtroom battles and complicated cases. I graduated from Moorhead High School and served in the United States Navy. Following my honorable discharge, I enjoyed a successful career in sales. Selling helped me understand why people care about what they care about. This skill set has helped me far more than almost anything I learned in law school.
I clerked for a criminal defense lawyer in St. Paul after my first year of law school. In my second year, I worked in a large office of public defenders, representing people in court every day. My additional work on criminal appeals helped confirm my belief that I needed to be in a courtroom actually defending people charged with crimes.
I have represented people charged with crimes ranging from disorderly conduct and domestic assault to obscure financial crimes like defeating security on personalty, to murder and first-degree criminal sexual conduct. The criminal justice system does a bad job at understanding those charged with crimes. When I represent someone, I try to understand who they are, which helps me serve their interests better.
Some people come to me wanting to take their cases to trial in hopes of a not guilty verdict. Others want to be helped through a difficult and scary process with the least damage to their lives. I am always clear with my clients about what can and cannot be done, and then I work to get the best possible outcome for them.
When you’re charged with a crime, the immense power of the government is arrayed against you. The government has police to arrest you, talk to your friends and family, tap your phone, execute search warrants, give deals to other people in exchange for testifying against you, and many other things that may be hard to see. When I represent someone, I do all I can to counter-balance the state’s power. I help each of my clients understand what can and cannot happen in a criminal case; my client then can help me understand the facts of his or her life so that I can build the best possible defense.
“I can’t describe how satisfying it was to realize that I was actually making a difference.”
For 39 years I have practiced in virtually every Minnesota county north and west of St. Cloud, representing people charged with offenses ranging from murders to misdemeanors.
My focus on the law developed in two steps. First, I had a TV vision of what a lawyer did. However, what made the law seem so worthy struck me while I was watching an interview of Justice Hugo Black by Eric Sevareid around 1970. Justice Black’s discussion of the law was fascinating and compelling. It gave me a sense that when all else is in flux, as it was at that time (the Vietnam War, young Americans marching in the street, bombings by the “Weathermen”), one can find in the law a sturdy place to stand. It was the only thing that made sense at that time.
So once the opportunity came to attend college after six years in the Navy, I had one focus: law school. I graduated from Eastern Montana College in 1976 and moved with my family to Minneapolis that fall to start law school at the University of Minnesota. After I was admitted to practice in October 1979, we moved to Mora, MN, where we did real estate and some divorce work. Then in 1981 we moved to Moorhead, where I took a public defender position in order to spend more time in the courtroom.
After a year of solo practice as an attorney and part-time public defender, I had an experience that reminded me of why I chose the law. It came when a police officer told me after a hearing that he didn’t like me very much, but that when he was out on the street thinking of making an arrest, he thought about what I might do with the case. That was when I realized that what I was doing actually affected how the law was applied to people I would never meet. I can’t describe how satisfying it was to realize that I was actually making a difference. Shortly after that I decided to not do any civil work and instead focus only on criminal law.
I have taken many positions that at the time were not viewed as supported by the law. Recently, for example, I have worked a case that went to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in order to clarify the law against perjury. I like to think that Hugo Black would be proud.