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Attorneys of the Year: John Choi

PrintThe 2016 Drug Reform Act Ramsey County Attorney John Choi successfully pushed through the Legislature has been called one of the most significant Minnesota sentencing reform measures in decades.

The changes aim to steer addicts toward treatment rather than jail, and put a premium on prosecuting “kingpin” drug dealers. Choi is careful to share credit for that achievement with fellow members of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association’s executive board.

Choi’s favorite part of the bill is his initiative to send savings from prison-bed occupancy reductions back into communities for addiction treatment programs, drug courts and the like, he said. “I think that is the most exciting thing about the bill for me and the thing that I was most passionate about,” Choi said.

There’s more — other reasons why his name was so prevalent in 2016’s headlines.

Choi made huge waves in November when he filed second-degree manslaughter and felony dangerous discharge of a firearm charges against St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. The officer killed St. Paul school lunchroom manager Philando Castile during a traffic stop in June, adding fuel to an already raging fire of unsettled U.S. race relations.

In July, he dropped criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis related to longstanding sex-abuse allegations. In doing so, Choi amended a December 2015 civil settlement, thus requiring Archbishop Bernard Hebda to admit the Catholic Church’s role in covering up sex-abuse cases going back decades.

Choi in 2016 also continued the fight against sex trafficking and violence against women.

He initiated an ongoing review of every rape allegation that his office either declined to prosecute or that police never investigated. Further, he plans to review every sex-assault case that reached hospitals, but never got reported to police.

“In the most serious crimes that reach our office, two-thirds of victims are women,” Choi said. “I get to see these problems and think about them as a part of my job. So just by doing those things, you start developing passions.”

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