Standing up for what is right will attract the kind of attention you don’t necessarily want, but do it anyway, former U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger told law students and other guests at a recent Federal Bar Association event at the University of St. Thomas.
The corollary to that rule is being prepared for failure, Luger said. That might be more difficult for millennials than for baby boomers, he acknowledged. “Your generation is far more risk-averse. You’re more tightly wound than we were,” he said. That’s likely because with the speed of social media, risks have different consequences, Luger said.
Three instances in his career were risky but paid off, Luger said. One was outreach to the Somali community in an effort to combat terrorism recruiting, while also prosecuting participants in the efforts. It was successful to a degree but also faced opposition. “We accomplished something. You have to be willing to not succeed.”
The prosecution of Danny Heinrich for child pornography offenses that induced Heinrich to confess to the murder of Jacob Wetterling was risky because it took a long time to elicit the truth from Heinrich, Luger said. “You’re dealing with the most despised person in the state. You know you’re going to get criticized,” he said. His response was to ask critics, “What would you do?”
Police officers killed Jamar Clark in 2015 and they faced no state or federal charges. An 18-day standoff outside the Minneapolis north side police station ensued. Although it ended peacefully, the Justice Department found a lack of a coordinated response among city and police officials and said law enforcement didn’t have a plan for managing the civil disturbance as it became a long-term event.
“We turned over every rock [looking for evidence],” Luger said. “People came up to me and thanked me for the process.”
Those instances were success stories, but failures build resilience. He recalled a case he prosecuted in New York that went spectacularly south. He took some time off work to regroup and was sitting in a park with a newspaper when a woman started to talk to him. He said he was taking some time to evaluate his career after a bad experience. She pointed at his newspaper and said, “at least you’re not that guy.”
He was. He took it as a sign he should go back to work.