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Jack Rice and Willow Anderson
Jack Rice and Willow Anderson (Submitted photo)

2021 Attorneys of the Year: Willow Anderson and Jack Rice

In a landmark case that drew national attention, attorneys Jack Rice and Willow Anderson helped an American Indian activist gain dismissal of felony charges for toppling a Christopher Columbus statue at the state Capitol a few days after the 2020 death of George Floyd.

Rice and Anderson collaborated with the Ramsey County attorney and the court to allow the use of the three-part restorative justice roundtable process rather than the conventional courtroom trial format. The use of the roundtable was derived from Native American custom.

Mike Forcia, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, was charged with criminal damage to property. Forcia organized the June 10 rally during which the statue was toppled.

In the roundtable session, Forcia not only discussed the historical inequities that led to his act, but also listened to Italian American community members talk about the fact that, when they erected the Columbus statue in 1931 “they were trying to redress (anti-Italian) racism in their own lives,” Anderson said.

Rather than jail time, Forcia was sentenced to 100 hours of community service.

Anderson says the case is “a prime example of the law acting as a key force for equity and justice, in helping to heal the effects of hundreds of years of harm” to indigenous people. “The method used was a way to elevate the social discussion and equity considerations, not just for our client but for the community as a whole.”

The Ramsey County attorney “was willing to provide community resources to include a wide group of people whom, generally, the criminal justice systems would not engage,” Anderson says.

In the process, the attorneys, prosecutor, judge and other participants “created a blueprint for how to handle cases like this,” Rice says, noting that the defendant had “tried through the right channels to have that statue removed, for decades.”

Rice and Anderson both had a particular interest in the case. Rice is a registered member of the Luiseno tribe of California, and serves on the board of directors of the American Indian Bar Association. Anderson grew up on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, but does not have a tribal affiliation.

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2021 here.

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