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James Gempeler launched his own firm in 2014 and joined with Dan Adkins in 2015 to form St. Paul-based North Star Criminal Defense. (File photo: Bill Klotz)
James Gempeler launched his own firm in 2014 and joined with Dan Adkins in 2015 to form St. Paul-based North Star Criminal Defense. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: Expungement expertise offers some a second chance

 Name: James Gempeler

Title: Partner, North Star Criminal Defense

Education: B.A., political science, Gustavus Adolphus College, J.D., Mitchell Hamline School of Law

James Gempeler believes in second chances, which is why he specializes in criminal defense and has developed expertise in expungement.

Gempeler said changes to state expungement law in 2015 made it more meaningful in practice.

“It was truly an opportunity to be kind of the front-runner in helping people get that second chance,” Gempeler said.

A criminal record sealed through expungement will not turn up during a criminal background check, according to Gempeler’s website. In some cases, clients with expunged records may be able to say they have not been convicted of a criminal defense, which could make a difference, for example, in a job application.

Gempeler, who also volunteers as an expungement attorney, handled expungements as a prosecutor for a local jurisdiction. That was before he launched his own firm in 2014 and joined with Dan Adkins in 2015 to form St. Paul-based North Star Criminal Defense.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Say hi. I’m very open. I find myself to be an affable individual. A for sure thing would be to bring up the football, the Packers or golf.

Q. What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A. I always knew I was going to be one. My dad was attorney. He’s retired. He was the city attorney in Madison for about 25 years and then he went to private practice. I just always knew — osmosis maybe — that I was going to be an attorney.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Arial font. And glitter. I hate glitter with a passion. And I have two girls so I’m doomed.

Q. What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A. What I do — not only just expungements but also criminal defense — I feel like I’m providing meaningful and impactful work for my clients. A lot of them are coming at me in the middle of a rut whether it’s family issues, dependency issues with alcohol or drugs, whatever the case may be. My partner and I talk all the time about how a lot of our work, frankly there are some social work aspects, figuring out how to not solve but get to the bottom of what led them to the poor decision-making and getting them the help they need. It’s enjoyable to see some of the clients making the progress they can make, get the result they deserve and move forward.

Q. Least favorite?

A. At times the long hours. Some clients might be more needy than others. Sometimes you do everything you can for a client and aren’t able to get the result you believe it deserved.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside of your job?

A. I’m a big golfer. Family time, so playing with the kids, hanging with them. I’m a big sports guy, so I love any sport on TV except for baseball. I’m all about turning the game on, watching that and being active with sports.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. It would be take them downtown Madison to see the campus area. Play a round at a favorite course and then take them downtown to a bar and grab a Spotted Cow.

Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A. My partner. He’s a wonderful family man and a hell of an advocate.

Q. What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A. With criminal defense you get this: How can you represent the criminals? My answer is: Very few of my clients, less than a handful, I truly consider a true bad criminal. Most are regular people that made a bad mistake or have an addiction or dependency problem. They are most of the time good people that, if they take the counseling, can get back on track and not be a burden on the community and really thrive.

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