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2019 Attorneys of the Year: Amy Lawler

Todd Nelson//February 7, 2020

2019 Attorneys of the Year: Amy Lawler

Todd Nelson//February 7, 2020

Amy Lawler was thrilled when the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously ordered the state Department of Corrections to stop holding hundreds of inmates past their release dates solely because counties refused to su­pervise them.

What motivated the assistant state public defender’s three-year fight on behalf of client Antwone Ford, a Level III sex offender incar­cerated two years beyond his release date?

“No state agency is above the law.” Lawler was angry that the DOC was not complying with the 2008 Marlowe v. Fabian decision, in which the Court of Appeals ordered the DOC to supervise people during their release terms. And her clients were desperate, as Law­ler represented them at hundreds of emotional DOC administrative hearings, and fought to convey the scope of the problem to courts unfamiliar with the DOC’s processes.

“The fight’s not over, but it has had a huge impact,” Lawler said of the Ford decision, which has caused officials across the state to change release and supervision practices. “The number of people held past their release dates has dropped substantially and that’s a great thing.”

Lawler credited numerous colleagues including Richard Schmitz, who handled Marlowe; Michael McLaughlin, Julie Loftus Nelson and Chang Lau for help on the litigation; her manager, Sharon Jacks; and Chief Appellate Defender Cathryn Middlebrook.

Lawler says her progressive upbringing inspired her career in pub­lic defense. Her father’s experience as a Vietnam veteran with low-lev­el convictions also influenced Lawler’s decision to go to Harvard Law School after graduating from Minneapolis South High School and Wellesley College.

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2019 here.

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