When Joe Van Thomme attended law school at Hamline University School of Law, he knew he wanted to become a criminal law attorney. Today, he is a lead criminal prosecutor at the firm Eckberg Lammers, handling all aspects of misdemeanor prosecution for 14 different cities in matters including DWIs, traffic code enforcement and domestic violence complaints.
“In representing cities, I feel like I am making a real difference,” Van Thomme said. “I work with actual people and issues that impact the greater community. I like being a problem solver who is helping cities solve grand problems and make their communities safe.”
Van Thomme considers both the micro and macro impacts of the methods he chooses to resolve criminal matters. He takes the time to look at the person behind each case, which is a big job considering that he handles roughly 4,000 cases per year. “The city is my client, and my number one job is to do what’s best for the community. But I try to use good discretion by looking at every case individually and determining what is the best measured response for each person. The goal is to resolve things fairly and justly while protecting the city’s best interests. I try to consider things like the age of the defendant and whether it’s a first offense. Maybe they just made a dumb choice. If the defendant is a repeat offender in a DWI, domestic abuse or theft case, jail time may be the most appropriate punishment, but there could be another way to resolve the issue that would help change the behavior. I also stay in touch with victims to make sure their voice is heard.”
Van Thomme is even-handed, but he is also a zealous city advocate. “I’m not afraid to go to court and try the ugly cases. I don’t mind being accountable for the outcome. A good prosecutor is not afraid to stand before a judge and jury, and argue a case.”
Eckberg Lammers has developed leading edge case management software that allows its attorneys to connect directly with the court system to manage calendars, e-file motions, upload discovery and track cases. Van Thomme leverages that technology to serve municipalities as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.
“Our system is set up to log in through secure portals, so I can work remotely from any courthouse or anywhere I happen to be. If I’m home on a Saturday and an officer needs information on a case immediately, I can provide it. With this tool, we are saving cities money by resolving matters efficiently and reducing officer court time.”
In a firm culture where leadership is measured by the value each individual attorney is adding to the profession, Van Thomme contributes to numerous organizations that are making a difference in the legal community and beyond. Among his many leadership roles, he is the incoming vice-chair of the criminal law section of the Minnesota State Bar Association, a DWI Task Force member, and an enthusiastic supporter of Reach for Resources, an organization that helps developmentally disabled individuals reach their full potential.
“I believe that civic engagement helps you become a better attorney, and therefore, a better leader. Part of my job is to make sure that people who might be overlooked have a voice, and to be an advocate either formally as a representative of the city or state or informally through community outreach.”
The attorneys at Eckberg Lammers are committed to making a difference for the individuals, businesses and municipalities they represent. According to Van Thomme, their office dog, a bulldog named Eddie, personifies what the firm’s culture is all about.
“We put a tie on him when he’s at work. He’s here once a week, and he roams around the office and lightens the day. We help resolve a lot of tough issues that have a lasting impact on individuals and communities, and we are committed to doing that responsibly and ethically. The things that are important to our clients, are also important to us.”