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Vernona Boswell
Vernona Boswell

2022 Unsung Legal Heroes: Vernona Boswell

Hennepin County Attorney’s Office

Vernona Boswell has two jobs, both of which would be consequential on their own. On one hand, she’s the division manager of victim services for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. On the other, she’s the office’s first director of race and equity.

Boswell oversees 75 people who deliver victim and witness services, including adult prosecution and juvenile victim witness services, and the domestic abuse service center. Because staff work with many communities — Somali, Hmong, Spanish, African American — Boswell tries to hire people who reflect those communities. Hiring, retention, training and other efforts aim to create and maintain a culturally specific and effective staff.

That work bleeds into race and equity work, and Boswell promotes the most inclusive and equitable staff she can. “I’m challenging the office to make sure we’re on the right track, holding ourselves accountable, and policing ourselves,” Boswell said.

After 26 years in victim advocacy, Boswell’s role is more advisory than direct. But when George Floyd’s and Daunte Wright’s families needed help during the extremely high-profile trials of their loved ones’ killers, Boswell provided it herself.

“I’ve learned over the years that you can’t get in this job to ‘help,’” Boswell said. “What’s helpful is defined by the victim, not you. You learn to listen actively and be present in the moment with victims and families.”

Boswell advocated for both families and provided court advocacy so that they were informed at all times of what was next: hearings, motions, trial and so on. She also tried hard to shield them from intense public attention, so they could grieve in private as well as in public. And she communicated intensely with attorneys and family, to ensure their voices were heard at critical moments during the process.

“It was the most profound and honorable opportunity I’ve had in my career,” Boswell said.

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