Larry Hammerling, classy public defender


June 21, 2010

Longtime chief state appellate public defender Lawrence Hammerling has died after a nearly two-year battle with cancer.

Hammerling, who had worked in the appellate office since 1978, died Sunday at his St. Paul home with his family by his side. He was 61.

He had led the appellate office for 20 years until his cancer diagnosis in August 2008. He officially retired a year later, after taking medical leave.

To his staff, Hammerling, of St. Paul, was the heart of the office, a man who often hosted parties for colleagues at his home and who was admired both for his intellect and for his commitment to helping those who needed it most. He was a mentor and beloved boss. Members of his staff held a party called Hammerfest and at another drank Hammertinis.

"Larry was a person who had tremendous compassion for people who were in trouble and for poor people who had made a mistake or had gotten on the wrong side of the law," chief state public defender John Stuart said, adding that Hammerling also was an intellectual force, a clear thinker with focus and a brilliant writer.

"He chose to use those great talents on people who really needed a good lawyer -- the poorest and most troubled," Stuart said.

Stuart said Hammerling also was a passionate Minnesota Twins fan and enjoyed talking baseball and cars during their regular lunches.

Assistant state public defender Marie Wolf served as the acting appellate chief in Hammerling's absence after working with him for 24 years. "He supported us in any way possible and he was such a good lawyer, a man of solid integrity and intelligence," she said.

Hammerling also worked for an inmate legal assistance program at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.

State Supreme Court Justice Paul H. Anderson got to know Hammerling because he frequently argued in front of the state's high court. Anderson called him a "classy, classy person" and "a very professional presence." The justice said, "He is missed and will continue to be missed."

Hammerling is survived by his wife, Paula Duthoy, an immigration lawyer; two daughters, Elena and Lily, and a sister, Stephanie Piro of Farmington, N.H. Services are pending.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747