Former state Rep. Carly Melin is joining the Minnesota Attorney General's Office as government affairs director this week, and Attorney General Keith Ellison has picked Minneapolis attorney Liz Kramer to be his new solicitor general.
Melin, a Hibbing native and DFLer, served in the state House from 2011 to 2017 before declining to run for re-election. She most recently worked as executive director of the State Building and Construction Trades Council.
Melin authored the state's Women's Economic Security Act in 2014, a package of bills aimed at closing the gender pay gap and improving workplace protections for women. In a recent interview, Ellison said ensuring that the bills' provisions are enforced will be one of his top four priorities during his first term.
Ellison announced the hirings Thursday. As solicitor general, Kramer will serve as the legal officer representing the state's interests in any appellate court proceedings.
Melin and incoming Chief Deputy Attorney General John Keller, formerly of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, are expected to join the office this week while Kramer is expected to begin work later this month.
Kramer is a partner at Stinson Leonard Street LLP in Minneapolis, where she has litigated arbitration and construction disputes. A Yale Law School graduate, Kramer also clerked for former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Helen Meyer and has written a legal blog, ArbitrationNation, that has been recognized by the ABA Journal.
Kramer previously chaired the Minnesota State Bar Association's appellate section, and Minnesota Lawyer named her its Attorney of the Year in 2016 after she helped start a self-help advice clinic for pro se litigants at the Minnesota Judicial Center.
In an interview, Ellison called Kramer "the consummate appellate attorney" who was willing to leave a major firm "because she believes in the public interest."
Melin, who also led past legislative efforts to legalize marijuana, will manage the Attorney General's Office's legislative agenda. Her ties to the Iron Range, where she was a St. Louis County prosecutor, stood out to Ellison.
The hires round out Ellison's leadership team, which also includes Chief of Staff Donna Cassutt, who served in the same role when Ellison was in Congress.
In a recent interview, Ellison described Keller as being uniquely positioned to understand "how public policy impacts new Americans and immigrants" and underlined Keller's experience growing the nonprofit immigration law clinic in Minneapolis.
Ellison said his office still needs to fill about 10 positions ranging from nonlawyer jobs to fielding consumer calls to jobs in the office's Medicaid fraud unit. He described the vacancies as being open before the election.
Ellison said his office will organize a task force to analyze compliance with the Women's Economic Security Act and said drug prices, wages and issues affecting residents in greater Minnesota would round out four items "that we are going to push for the next four years."
Ellison said his staff is working to build a "unit that can make sure we're working on fair pay and fighting wage theft all the time." He said that would involve building up the office's investigative capacity to address wages while also working with agencies on agricultural, broadband and telecommunication disparities in greater Minnesota.
"We might be in a farm crisis right now," Ellison said. "It's been two to three years since most medium to small farmers could get prices for commodities that could sustain them."