On June 3, this paper reported that the Dorsey & Whitney law firm has ended it pro bono prosecution program with the Minneapolis city attorney. For 42 years, attorneys from Dorsey have volunteered as special prosecutors for the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office. It has been an arrangement of mutual benefit. Minneapolis gained help with its crushing load of misdemeanor prosecutions, and Dorsey got its lawyers jury-trial experience that would otherwise be hen’s-tooth rare.
Now, asserting that their pro bono hours are better spent elsewhere and not wanting to “support” the Minneapolis Police Department in any way, Dorsey has ended the program. The underlying statement is unmistakable: The city attorney’s work is not for the public good.
For all of us, but especially those of us who forwent lucrative careers at a big firm to serve the community as civil servants, Dorsey’s move is a gut punch. It is a hard time to be a Minneapolis employee, but now is the time to continue our hard work — it is not the time to jump ship.
The Minneapolis city attorney does good work and it does it well. Our office has been on the cutting edge of cash bail reform, diversion programs, and specialty courts like DWI and veterans’ courts. These programs seek to treat social ills with social solutions rather than incarceration and fines. Beyond this, there is the meat-and-potatoes work of our trial teams who prosecute crimes to gain justice for victims of drunken driving, theft, assault and domestic violence. And we have — absolutely — prosecuted police officers.
Further, our client services attorneys support all facets of the city’s operations, from public works, to the Fire Department, to the Department of Civil Rights. And while our litigators defend — as required by Minnesota statute — the city and its employees, including police officers, we do so with integrity and pursuant to our ethical obligations to our clients.
Finally, our human-resources attorneys work hard to support management’s personnel decisions. These cases often involve the union’s challenges to discipline and termination of police officers. More often than not, it seems, the discipline and terminations are overturned by arbitrators who “split the baby” and courts that second-guess management’s hard decisions. The city attorney’s practice is diverse and complicated, but the office is composed of good public servants dedicated to making the city a better place by discharging their duties.
Moreover, the city attorney’s lawyers and staff work hard to improve equity and inclusion in the office and citywide. As one of many founding members of the office’s equity and inclusion team, I have seen firsthand the hard and sincere work of our lawyers and staff on this front. Lawyers and staff who are drawn from all backgrounds: immigrants, people of color, LGBTQIA individuals, veterans, and, yes, even people with last names like “Anderson.”
So, to my colleagues at the office: As civil servants, it is our job to help make things better, and I know you will double your efforts in these difficult times. I am proud to work side-by-side with you. I expect all of us to take a hard look at what we do and how we do it. We will make hard choices and hard changes, but, like always, we will strive for the public good — pro bono publico.
Brian S. Carter is an assistant city attorney for the city of Minneapolis.