Warrior for Justice
When I started in the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office over 20 years ago, I was told there were certain public defenders I just had to watch in trial. One of them was Jim Krieger, a cowboy boot-wearing legend in the court system.
I will never forget his closing argument in a drop case in which he described the police as “swooping out of nowhere on an unsuspecting citizen in the bat mobile like Batman and Robin!” While I have no recollection of his explanation for the crack the cops claimed the unsuspecting citizen dropped on the ground next to the bat mobile, I remember quite clearly the acquittal he received from the jury. He was so genuine and so plain spoken, jurors absolutely loved him.
He was also the creative mind behind many, often profanity laden, “Kriegerisms.” Young lawyers marched off to “dance on their tonsils,” or “kick someone’s ass.” He was a true warrior, describing judges and prosecutors as, “a bunch of tweety birds and misfits!” To illustrate the danger of asking the one question too many, he warned, “Don’t poke that cow patty because right now it doesn’t smell all dried up in the hot sun but if you poke it, it will stink!”
Jim Kreiger passed away last fall, after a wonderful career as a public defender. He will be missed by so many, including the three public defenders who wrote the following piece for the Minnesota Bar Memorial, which will be held next week.
JAMES JOSEPH KRIEGER
July 12, 1940 – October 13, 2013
“If you take the law seriously and stick with it, you never know what kind of a difference you might make for someone.” – Jim Krieger
Jim Krieger (known as "Krieger") was a warrior for justice who made a difference in the lives of thousands during his 43 years as a criminal defense lawyer. His contributions to the profession are countless, and he has left a lasting impression on his family, colleagues, clients and community.
Krieger grew up in tough economic times in a blue- collar community in Albert Lea. His early job at the meat-packing plant was undoubtedly responsible for his strong work ethic. He attended the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul and the University of Minnesota Law School in Minneapolis. He graduated without student debt, which allowed him to pursue his calling – representing the poor.
His first job was at the Legal Aid Society, where he was appointed the first full-time chief public defender in Juvenile Court after the United States Supreme Court granted juveniles the right to counsel in delinquency proceedings. He formed strong community relationships with African-Americans and Native Americans. After four years, Doug Hall hired him as the first criminal defense trial lawyer at the Legal Rights Center. In 1978, Bill Kennedy hired Krieger at the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office, where he was a public defender for more than 30 years, both as a line lawyer and as a supervisor.
Krieger received many awards, including The Jack Durfee Award for Distinguished Service as a Public Defender in 2005, the Minnesota Lawyer of the Year – Outstanding Service to the Profession Award in 2007 and the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Distinguished Service Award in 2010. But his greatest impact was the influence he had on his colleagues. He mentored new lawyers and is credited with empowering many women in a male-dominated profession.
He achieved acquittals in two of the first criminal cases in which the battered women’s syndrome was raised as a defense. He personally argued five cases before the Minnesota Supreme Court on a series of novel issues, including a decision precluding the use of hypnosis- induced testimony. He was renowned for his unique closing arguments, his creative expressions, and his unsurpassed passion in defending the poor.
Krieger was devoted to his family and his wife, Rene Clemenson, also a Hennepin County public defender. He was a lover of nature and knowledge, a voracious reader who enjoyed current events with historical parallels. He cherished his seven children and 11 grandchildren. He ended each day looking out the window to the lake, watching the news while holding hands with the love of his life, Rene.
Krieger was simply a lawyer for the people: A familiar figure in the halls of justice with his ever-present cup of coffee, cowboy boots, corduroy suit coat and infectious, joyful spirit. You can still hear his charge to his lawyers echoing in the halls near his office: “Go kick someone’s a|STAR||STAR| – even if they don’t need it!”