Minnesota Attorney General-elect Keith Ellison picked a veteran immigration lawyer to be his chief deputy attorney general on Friday, reviving a position that will give Ellison a second-in-command when he takes office next month.
John Keller's tenure leading the nonprofit Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) since 2005 will add to the office a "unique combination of deep grassroots understanding of the struggles that all Minnesotans face," Ellison said in a statement announcing the hire.
Keller's ILCM provides legal assistance to low-income immigrants and refugees and has played a prominent role in the state in opposing President Donald Trump's immigration policies. Keller joined the office as a staff attorney in 1998 and, as director, grew the office from five staffers to a 32-employee operation that counts five offices statewide and a network of 250 pro bono attorneys.
"I can think of no one better suited to help me serve the people of Minnesota," Ellison said.
Keller will serve as the "number-two attorney" in Ellison's office, a position that has not existed in recent years under outgoing Attorney General Lori Swanson.
"The chief deputy is traditionally the attorney general's right-hand person for managing this big public law office," said Richard Allyn, a Minneapolis attorney and former chief deputy attorney general who co-chairs Ellison's transition team. "It enables the attorney general to better carry out the important role of dealing with public issues and broader public policy concerns."
Keller will help manage the office's lawyers and legal assistants and figures to be key in helping Ellison follow through on a campaign promise to assist county attorneys in handling complex criminal prosecutions and appeals.
"I am honored to help implement Keith Ellison's vision as chief deputy attorney general," Keller said. "It represents the perfect opportunity to continue on a larger scale the work to which I've dedicated my professional life: helping to transform lives and strengthen our democratic and legal systems and protections."
Ellison told an audience at an Albert Lea listening session this month that he must also soon make hiring choices on the positions of solicitor general, legislative coordinator and outreach coordinator, and he indicated that his pledge to assist county attorneys' offices throughout the state would factor into a forthcoming budget request.
Before being sworn in on Jan. 7, Ellison will participate in a third listening session in north Minneapolis next week.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755 Twitter: @smontemayor