Local attorneys to be honored for public service

Two local attorneys will be honored Friday with prestigious awards from the Minnesota State Bar Association for their public service contributions: Chief Public Defender Dan Lew and Assistant City Attorney Alison Lutterman.

From left: Dan Lew and Alison Lutterman

Two local attorneys will be honored Friday with prestigious awards from the Minnesota State Bar Association for their public service contributions: Chief Public Defender Dan Lew and Assistant City Attorney Alison Lutterman.

Dan Lew

Dan Lew has served as chief public defender for the 6th Judicial District in Northeastern Minnesota since 2014, but he first went to work as a public defender in the state in 1996.

“I think what brought me to this work was a question: What can I do to serve the most vulnerable and helpless and needy?” he said.

Early in his law studies, Lew dreamed of teaching in the field. “But then I took my first job in public defense and realized: Wow. This is where I can make a difference.”


Lew grew up in Queens, N.Y., where his Chinese immigrant parents settled.

“I knew, growing up in a city of 8 million people, that I didn’t want that to be my home for the rest of my life,” he said.

A chance to study law at Hamline University brought Lew to Minnesota initially.

He recalled how former 6th District Chief Public Defender Fred Friedman offered him a job.

“He took a chance on someone who had no ties to the Northland,” Lew said.

But Lew said he received a warm welcome.

“I joined an office that became family. I was a single guy, 26 years old, and I knew not a single soul in the Northland. … And it has become home since, because of the incredible mentoring and colleagues I’ve had for the past two decades,” he said.

At age 46, Lee oversees a district that contains six courthouses in four counties spread across about 14,000 square miles. He said news that he would receive the William E. McGee Public Defender Award came as a big surprise.


“It’s an award that often comes to folks later on in their careers, if ever. So I was really honored and really humbled, because this is not about me, it’s about the just under 50 men and women who I’m privileged to work with each and every day, and really the over 600 people who do this work across the state,” he said.  

Alison Lutterman

As of this summer, Lutterman will have spent 27 years representing the city of Duluth and providing it with legal advice.

She recalled coming to Duluth in 1990, just a few years out of law school, for an interview with former City Attorney Bill Dinan. She arrived early to take in the city and picked up a copy of the newspaper. In it, she read about a woman who had been fatally injured on the Aerial Lift Bridge.

“So we get into the interview, and I mentioned that issue, and I said this is my analysis of your defenses,” Lutterman recalled.

“I got home and Bill was calling me up to offer me the job,” she said.

Lutterman said Duluth felt like a good fit. Having grown up in Hawaii, she said: “I’ve always liked it up here, because I’m just not comfortable when I’m not living near a big body of water.”

In a letter of nomination, City Attorney Gunnar Johnson praised Lutterman, saying: “The depth and variety of Alison’s experience is unique given today’s trend toward specialization.”


Johnson said Lutterman’s “fearless and no-nonsense attitude” served her well on the job, as she handled many big cases for the city including the successful effort to stem the sale of synthetic marijuana at a head shop called the Last Place on Earth, and another involving the tragic death of a skier at Spirit Mountain that established “recreational immunity protection for cities from lawsuits arising out of injuries caused by natural conditions on park land.”

Lutterman, who will celebrate her 61st birthday in October, said she plans to retire sometime this year.

“I feel that life is short, and the time is right,” Lutterman said. “In this job, it really helps to have an innate gut instinct. I’ve always listened to my instincts a lot.”


Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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