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Home / Special Sections / Attorneys of the Year / 2022 Attorneys of the Year: Celeste Culberth and Leslie Lienemann
Celeste Culberth (left) and Leslie Lienemann, Culberth and Lienemann, LLP
Celeste Culberth (left) and Leslie Lienemann, Culberth and Lienemann, LLP

2022 Attorneys of the Year: Celeste Culberth and Leslie Lienemann

In a landmark case against Chisago County and former Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan, law partners Leslie Lienemann and Celeste Culberth established liability for sexual harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress, even before going to trial.

In 2022, after the federal court issued summary judgment in favor of their client, a jury awarded significant damages to their client, former Chisago County crime analyst Michelle Jacobson. She received $565,000 for emotional distress and another $550,000 for punitive damages.

“We believe the emotional distress damages award to be among the highest under the Minnesota Human Rights Act for sexual harassment,” said Culberth.

The case, however, is not complete. “Here we are in early 2023 and we’re not done yet,” Lienemann said. “The court is still considering the civil penalty, our attorney fee petition, and several other things, including sanctions. So, this is a long-going battle.”

The case stems from conduct in 2017 by Duncan, who claimed he had received anonymous letters from an individual who called himself “Control Freak.” The individual allegedly threatened Jacobson via Duncan and told her to go to a Bemidji hotel with her boss, share a room and follow instructions that would be forthcoming. Duncan warned Jacobson that “Control Freak” might expect them to have sex.

She did not go, and Duncan later confessed to being “Control Freak” before resigning. Lienemann said Jacobson went through the usual channels to rectify the situation, including notifying two sheriff’s deputies about the behavior, both of whom initially did nothing because they feared Duncan. Jacobson eventually resigned after the incident.

Duncan remains free on probation, despite having been criminally convicted of stalking and misuse of office.

Lienemann said the verdict’s size in the Jacobson case speaks to juries’ readiness to hold people in power accountable and the courts’ desire “to hold employers accountable. I think that’s legally significant.”

The attorneys have had other significant wins in proving discrimination against women and LGBTQ clients. Culberth also has a successful mediation practice.

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2022 here.

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