Cathy Haukedahl, new director of MN Legal Aid, bracing for tight budget


Minnesota Legal Aid has a new director: veteran attorney and former state solicitor general Cathy Haukedahl--and already, she's bracing for potential impact from the Republican budget.

"The Legislative proposals indicated slight cuts for the court system," Haukedahl says. "One to three percent--it's very early to know."

That might not sound like much, but with the foreclosure and economic crises pushing more and more people through Legal Aid's doors, Haukdahl is trying to ensure that her organization has the money it needs to do the job.

Haukedahl took over as the executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance--the long, official name for Legal Aid--on Feb. 16. She was chosen by the organization's board of director to replace Jerry Lane, who had served at the helm for 31 years.

Before taking on her new role, Haukedahl served as deputy director of the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis for eight years. Prior to that, she was Solicitor General at the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, where she managed six litigation divisions and advocated at the state against sexual violence against women. She also worked as an employment and commercial litigator at Felhaber, Larson, Fenlon & Vogt in downtown Minneapolis.

Because of its clientele, Legal Aid has a history of catching widespread problems affecting lower-income people, and then pushing for change.

"We noticed a pattern of a number of Latino families complaining about a scam in mortgage foreclosures," Haukedahl says. Legal Aid referred the case to the feds--HUD and the U.S. Attorney's Office--which is now prosecuting the scammers involved.

Former e.d. Jerry Lane is now working on fundraising
Former e.d. Jerry Lane is now working on fundraising

When Lane, the former executive director, began working at Legal Aid as a young attorney in 1970, there was no state domestic abuse act, and landlords had a right to charge tenants rent even if they did not maintain their rental properties.

Under Lane's tenure, the organization helped write the state's Domestic Abuse Act and change landlord-tenant laws. Through its work on the historic Welsch v. Likens case, Legal Aid was also a major force in ending the institutionalization of developmentally disabled people in Minnesota. In recent years, Legal Aid has been serving thousands of immigrants. Its largest area of cases is in housing, but it also works on consumer rights, mental health, and youth cases.

Haukedahl said attorneys in the Hennepin County Bar Association have been among Legal Aid's most stable donors, as grants from foundations and government have shrunk.

On May 5, the organization is having its Law Day Dinner--its annual fundraiser at the Hilton in Minneapolis.

"People care about homelessness, hunger, children with special needs, violence," Lane says. "They don't think about lawyers as a solution to those problems--but they can help."

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