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William Ward. Minnesota State Public Defender
William Ward. Minnesota State Public Defender

2022 Attorneys of the Year: William Ward

True to form, William Ward accepts his recognition for outstanding service to the profession on behalf of the Minnesota State Board of Public Defense, for whom he serves as the Minnesota state public defender.

Ward was the chief public defender in the 10th Judicial District from 2001 to 2009. He was chief 4th District public defender from May of 2009 until August 2014. He became the Minnesota state public defender in July 2014, and still holds that office.

Ward is active in training, mentoring and supporting his defenders. He assists in trials when he’s needed, and teaches trial skills across the country. To him, this service award is all about the work that’s been done by the public defender staff. “Our tech staff and the agency should be proud of their work. Nothing gets done until people go to work.”

The last several years have brought several challenges. One was the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed the courts. Everyone went to work to figure out how to protect incarcerated clients and staff.

They started by getting people released who were in jail essentially for being poor. Then they got some hearings started, working with the courts at length to get that done. “It was an arduous process. We worked together. There are always hiccups,” Ward said. “We were one of the first jurisdictions in the country to get started as fast as we did.”

Additionally, funding of public defenders has long been an issue. The state has not funded the agency sufficiently to keep caseloads reasonable, he said.

Ward said he gets good responses from the Legislature but not always money. “I’m a little perplexed they would not think that a constitutional duty is an obligation,” he said.

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

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