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(Submitted photo)
(Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Public defense gets verdict over medical studies

Name: Andrew Gordon

Title: Associate director; program director, Community Defense Program, Legal Rights Center

Education: B.A., political science, international studies, Macalester College; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Andrew Gordon was supposed to be a doctor, like his mother.

Instead he’s marking a decade at the Legal Rights Center, the community-driven, nonprofit public defense law firm in Minneapolis.

Gordon is the center’s associate director and director of its Community Defense Program, which offers legal representation to adults without charge. The center handles 400 to 550 criminal cases a year — from low-level misdemeanors to murders.

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Gordon was a biology major at Macalester College when two events occurred.

First, he joined the school’s mock trial team. Then a cousin in south Florida went to prison on a drug charge as family questioned his justice system experience.

“That, in combination with the work I was doing in mock trial, completely changed the direction of my life,” Gordon said.

Gordon switched majors to political science and international studies to prepare for law school instead of medical studies.

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

A: Just start talking. If you wanted to be friendly, start talking about sports especially soccer — Minnesota United, Liverpool, that kind of thing.

Q: What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A: “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity,” by Andrew Solomon. I have a son, which prompted me to read the book.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: Not talking about your problems. Having an issue, that’s bothering you and not then wanting to communicate about it.

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

A: That one-on-one relationship that you develop with a client; the willingness and ability to teach students, to work with students and work through complex problems.

Q: Least favorite?

A: There are plenty of days as a defense attorney where you go into court knowing that something bad is going to happen to a client. The more time you spend with that individual, with their family, the more you get to know them, the more you feel that and the more you internalize that. That happens very often as a defense attorney. That is never a pleasant feeling. You really have to prioritize self care. You have to understand that you as a defense attorney will be traumatized by this work and you have to understand what it means for you to work through that trauma.

So, for me, I box. I go to the gym and hit the punching bag, take classes and spar.

Q: What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A: Boxing. Soccer. I grew up playing soccer in Jamaica. I played cricket as well, although playing cricket here is a bit hard. Sports generally. Reading and hanging out with my son.

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

A: In Kingston, there is a spot in Port Royal that has fantastic fish and really good Jamaican food. It’s called Marla’s.

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

A: Former Judge Gail Chang Bohr, who was judge in Ramsey County. She is Jamaican as well and she has been a good friend and mentor.

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

A: That defense attorneys and public defenders don’t care about justice, that we represent evil and vile people — and that’s not true. Defense attorneys care deeply about justice and fairness and ensuring that everyone — irrespective of their place in the community, irrespective of what they’ve been charged with — gets a fair shake and are remembered as people.

Q: What is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture?

A: Anything like “The New Jim Crow,” books about the civil rights movement. I don’t find a lot of TV depictions of attorneys to be very accurate, especially when it comes to defense attorneys, so I generally want to avoid that.

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