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Jill Brisbois
Jill Brisbois

2020 Attorneys of the Year: Jill Brisbois

While sunbathing with a male friend at Cedar Lake a few years ago, Helana Howard received a citation from the Minneapolis Park Police because she wore no bathing top in violation of park ordinances.

Then with Caplan & Tamburino Law Firm P.A., Jill Brisbois received a call from Howard’s father about the arrest, widely covered by the media. Despite a workload of “stressful” cases, Brisbois took the case “because I felt pretty strongly this ordinance was wrong … and this case made me feel inspired.”

The city’s ordinance required women over a certain age to have their “areola,” the area surrounding a nipple, fully covered. Ironically, the police cited Howard as she laid on her stomach with her areola facing the ground while her shirtless male companion sat with his areola fully displayed.

“It was really bizarrely written, quite frankly,” Brisbois said. “Theoretically, you couldn’t breastfeed because if you exposed your nipple during the process of trying to breastfeed, you’d violate the ordinance.”

The Park Police dropped the charges and Brisbois argued successfully to have the citation expunged. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board took up the matter after several heated meetings where protesters threatened women supporting an ordinance change.

Still, the board softened the ordinance to reflect the state’s statute on the issue, which seems to allow areola exposure as long as the woman does not do so in “an overtly sexual manner,” she said.

The decision works for Brisbois and her client. “It was just fundamentally unfair that certain people can walk around without their tops on, and others can’t,” she said. “As Helena said, ‘Sometimes it’s hot out, and I’m hot too.’”

The former Anoka County Public Defender worked at Caplan before recently leaving to start her own firm Brisbois Defense PLLC. Her reason for practicing law is simple: “I like helping people. My career has always been about helping people.”

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2020 here.

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