Assistant U.S. attorney Erika Mozangue Drayton created a federal law clinic at the University of Minnesota to provide civil rights enforcement for the disabled, for military veterans whose employment rights are violated and for those facing housing discrimination.
Her peers say that clinic — the first of its kind in the nation — and a model program she ran to train law students are her legacies, successful experiments that are being replicated elsewhere, including New York.
Mozangue, of Brooklyn Park, died Aug. 18 of cancer. She was 45.
A dedicated and versatile attorney, she prosecuted big-time crooks and most recently served as deputy chief of the Civil Division for the U.S. attorney in Minnesota, overseeing litigation and managing a team of paralegals.
She was responsible for suing individuals and corporations for civil rights violations and for a variety of cases in which federal laws are enforced civilly, rather than criminally. And she defended the government when sued.
Mozangue and her team tracked down assets for forfeiture from convicted criminals, including notorious Ponzi schemer Tom Petters.
“Even though she was sick, you wouldn’t have known it,” said Greg Brooker, chief of the Civil Division. “She forged ahead, wanted to have a full caseload and be totally involved in her profession.”
On top of her busy work life, Mozangue taught in law schools and helped interns. At home, she was low-key about work, down to earth and a loving spouse, said her husband, Marcus Drayton.
Mozangue was a reserved woman with a “quiet resolve,” a warm heart, and she was an excellent listener, said Brooker, her supervisor.
“Erika was a gifted lawyer and manager, but more importantly, she was a wonderful person,” said former U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, now director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“She cared deeply about the people around her. She was always ready with a kind word or a heartfelt laugh, and her smile was infectious. Of course, we will miss her professional contributions, but more than that, we will miss her friendship.”
A 1990 graduate of the University of Minnesota and a 1993 graduate of William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Mozangue was a prosecutor in Dakota and Hennepin counties before joining the U.S. attorney’s office in Minneapolis in 2002.
Her first assignment was in the Major Crimes Section of the Criminal Division.
In 2006, she was named chief of the Civil Division but stepped down in 2007 during office turmoil and returned to prosecuting bank fraud conspiracies and more.
In 2010, she became the Civil Division’s chief deputy.
Mozangue created and ran not only the civil-rights clinic at the University of Minnesota but also one for prisoner litigation at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. She also taught at William Mitchell College of Law.
After classroom training, students work for a year in the U.S. attorney’s office.
“It’s really a great legacy that will live on,” Brooker said of the program.
“She told me that she initially went to law school because she wanted to make a difference,” Brooker said. “And boy, what a difference she made.”
In addition to husband Marcus, survivors include stepdaughter Christine Drayton; mother and stepfather, Viola and Don Mills; and siblings LaVecchia Mozangue and Tramayne Mills.
Services will be from 6-8 p.m. Sept. 12 at Edinburgh Clubhouse, 8700 Edinbrook Crossing, Brooklyn Park.