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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Public defender heroism in St. Louis County

It turns out we had a hero in our midst and most of us didn’t realize it. It is a little reminder, if one was needed, of the good work done by public defenders every day. In St. Louis County, public defender Mark Groettum was attacked by his client, who wrapped his arm around Groettum’s neck and punched him repeatedly in the face. Remarkably, the defendant then requested a new court-appointed lawyer. He argued to the Court of Appeals that his due-process rights were violated when his lawyer was discharged without a hearing in which he could participate.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals said today that he forfeited his right to a court-appointed lawyer, a ruling of first impression in this state but in line with other jurisdictions, which the court cited extensively. The defendant complaints of other errors in the proceedings following his assault on Groettum but the court also turned those back. Look for more coverage of State v. Lehman in next week’s Minnesota Lawyer, but in the meantime, hats off to Groettum, who exemplifies the risks public defenders run every day.

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