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Alumni Spotlight: Public Defender Friedman Honored for Work on Behalf of the Poor

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Alumni Spotlight: Public Defender Friedman Honored for Work on Behalf of the Poor

Fifty years ago this week the United States Supreme Court announced its landmark court case decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, which guaranteed legal representation for defendants who can’t afford a lawyer. So it is very fitting that Fred Friedman, longtime Northeastern MN Chief Public Defender (and 1969 UMD graduate), was honored with a Distinguished Service Award by the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for his work on behalf of the poor at a ceremony held in St. Paul this past Saturday.

Carolyn Agin Schmidt, treasurer of the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in describing the impetus behind the award, explained that for over 40 years, Friedman has been the chief public defender representing the indigent for the 6th judicial district and it was time to honor him for his wonderful contributions.

Recently retired UMD Vice Chancellor, Greg Fox, long-time friend and former UMD classmate of Friedman’s, said, “Fred’s fight for justice has given hope to families and individuals that felt they had little chance for fairness in the criminal justice system. He has also been a strong advocate for UMD and its students. He is generous with his time and thoughtful in his advice. His students and interns keep in contact with him.”

In an article that appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on March 17, 2013, Friedman writes: “Clarence Earl Gideon was a poor, married, white northern Floridian charged with breaking into a pool hall… and stealing soda pop. Facing five years in prison, he asked for a lawyer. The judge denied his request for counsel, saying a lawyer was provided only in death-penalty cases. Gideon was sentenced to five years in prison. He wrote the Supreme Court a letter in pencil and got a new trial – with a lawyer.”

Mark Rubin, St. Louis County Attorney, recounted that he first came to know Fred when they were both very much younger attorneys back in the late 70’s. They both share and are fiercely proud of their Western Duluth roots.

Rubin adds: “In my role as a prosecutor and Fred’s as a defense attorney, we have been on opposing sides in the Courtroom for over 35 years. However, when it comes to matters of fundamental fairness, racial equity and the living, breathing concept of justice for all, there is no greater or passionate ally and advocate than my friend and esteemed colleague Fred Friedman.”

According to the biography on his UMD College of Liberal Arts homepage, Fred Friedman has been an attorney since 1972, a public defender in Minnesota since February 1, 1973, and a professor since 1975. He was born and raised in Chicago and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Friedman moved to Duluth, Minnesota in March of 1964 and graduated from Duluth Denfeld High School in 1965. He attended the University of Minnesota, Duluth from 1965 to 1969 where he graduated magna cum laude. He earned his Juris Doctorate at the University of Minnesota Law School where he graduated in 1972. He then returned to Duluth where he practiced as a full time public defender from 1973 to 1977 and as a part time defender with a private practice specializing in criminal defense and representing professionals in front of licensing boards from 1977 to 1992.

Friedman has served as the Chief Public Defender of Minnesota’s Sixth District (northeastern Minnesota) since 1986 and is Minnesota’s most senior chief defender. He has written many articles on trial skills and public defender leadership. He has taught at schools and seminars for the public and private criminal bar and others in over two dozen states and four countries.

As an adjunct professor at UMD, he holds a joint appointment in the Department of Sociology and the School of Medicine. He is annually selected as one of Minnesota’s Super Lawyers. He has won several outstanding teacher awards and was selected as the 1996 Minnesota public attorney of the year. He also co-hosts a radio show on Public Radio throughout Northern Minnesota entitled “Fool Fred”.

To emphasize the appropriateness of Friedman’s Distinguished Service Award, Fox explains that “being a friend of Fred in public is to be reminded at all times of the number of lives he has touched by hard work and extraordinary kindness. If you are one of the hundreds of friends of Fred you have a friend who would drop everything to lend you a hand”.

Information and quotations provided in part by the Duluth News Tribune.