Catherine Turner: A Bright and Bold Defender

America’s criminal justice system has been a hotbed for debate and controversy for decades. Some believe it to be the paragon of justice while others see cracks in its scales. And while the debate rages on, the members of the defense bar continue to work tirelessly on behalf of their clients.

One such attorney, Catherine Turner, employs her legal acumen, her tenacity, her compassion and a touch of charm to advocate for those most in need of a champion.

A welcoming figure to her clients, she strives to set them at ease as she guides them through one of the most daunting experiences of their lives. Adversaries, however, have learned that behind that warm smile lies a sharp legal mind and an unyielding commitment to her client’s rights. In the courtroom, she has earned a reputation as a tenacious defender with a talent for cross-examination and an uncanny ability to detect the rectitude of anyone on the witness stand.

“I was raised with a healthy skepticism of government and an understanding that it needs to be kept in check,” Turner says. “And I was raised to be empathetic and compassionate, especially toward the less fortunate.”

It is that personal philosophy that aligned her with the defense side of the aisle and has driven her through her career.

Catherine Turner

Finding Her Passion

Given Turner’s deeply passionate commitment to both her clients and the law, one might assume that becoming an attorney has been a lifelong dream. Surprisingly, this is not the case.

After earning her political science degree at the University of Massachusetts, Turner was uncertain of her next step. The plan to attend law school was hatched over dinner with a long-time friend who jokingly invited her to join him in New York after graduation to become his consigliere. “Law school was probably the most impulsive decision I’ve ever made,” she confesses. “I didn’t know any lawyers and didn’t truly understand what it meant at the time.”

Law school wasn’t what she’d envisioned. The first semester at Lewis and Clark School of Law in Portland was entirely focused on civil law, contracts and constitutional law. “It was all so very abstract,” she says. “I felt like I’d made the wrong decision until I took my first criminal law course. My interest did a 180.”

She had found her passion and began working harder than she ever had in her life.

After her first year, Turner applied to the state and federal prosecutor’s offices and defender’s offices. “It quickly became apparent I had found my people. I knew I couldn’t be in a prosecutor’s office because they were going to put me in a box. I couldn’t live that way. I have a real discomfort putting people in prison. Once I met defense attorneys, I instantly connected and never looked back.”

She was taken on as a law clerk for the Federal Public Defender’s Office of Oregon for two years, where she assisted the attorneys representing Brandon Mayfield after the Madrid bombing. Following her graduation, she moved to Minnesota where she worked as a public defender for 15 years in Dakota and other counties.

Never Look Back

Catherine Turner

2008 was a landmark year for Turner. She was one of the youngest attorneys at the time to become a Minnesota State Bar certified criminal law specialist and she launched her own private practice.

Turner is not one to waste time on false modesty. She’s worked hard to achieve her proficiency and her confidence is based on a history of success.

“I never dwell on past successes; I’m always looking forward,” she says. “And while I’m confident in the lawyer I am today, I’m still constantly trying to be better. I’ve spent my career training to be a badass trial attorney. Trials are the best part of the job! It’s a rush and high stakes. It’s being able to think on your feet, always being one step ahead of opposing counsel.

“It’s what I love and to be good at that takes a lot of effort,” she adds.

She has focused her career on higher-level felonies handling a lot of sex crimes which go to trial most often. She has had roughly 50 trials and conducted hundreds of hearings in state and federal court. Combined with her thousands of hours of experience as a public defender, Turner knows what it takes to litigate a case to the benefit of her clients.

While admired as an award-winning defense attorney, like most superstars, Turner is also recognized for one particular skill that’s invaluable to all trial attorneys – the cross-examination.

“My favorite part is cross-examining cops,” she says. “I have invested a lot of time trying to be really good at cross-examination. I’ve done a lot of training here in Minnesota as well as nationally.”

Turner has attended National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) seminars and the National Criminal Defense College Trial School as well as advanced cross-examination classes. She has become so proficient and widely recognized for her talent in this area that she is now teaching other lawyers through the Minnesota Public Defender’s annual weeklong trial school and before a national audience with the NACDL.

Turner has been sharing her knowledge with her fellow lawyers for more than a decade, touching on topics such as the challenges of representing clients with mental health issues, the Fourth Amendment in the Edward Snowden age, fighting eyewitness and cross-racial identification, and challenging geofence reverse location data.

“I’m often asked how I can sleep at night defending people charged with crimes,” she says. “Everyone is entitled to a defense, so I sleep just fine thank you.

“The hardest cases for me are those where I’m convinced my client is innocent,” she continues. “It’s easier when the government’s evidence is strong and a conviction is obvious; then it’s just about making sure the client’s rights are respected, and they get an outcome that is proportionate and reasonable. When I’m fighting for someone I know to be innocent, that’s when I lose sleep, get ulcers and stress.”

When I’m fighting for someone I know to be innocent, that’s when I lose sleep, get ulcers and stress.

Behind the Armor

Zealously representing the accused and fighting the government can wear even the best lawyers out, and Turner makes an effort to take time to recharge and rest. As dedicated as she is to her clients and career, Turner also enjoys a close-knit circle of family, friends and love.

“I’m a badass aunt, too,” she says. “I take a lot of pride in that.”

When she’s not spoiling her niece or traveling internationally with her longtime partner, a renowned U of M professor in the animal sciences department, you can find Turner quilting, hosting dinner parties, or going to see live music.

In contrast to her dynamic courtroom persona, Turner cultivates calm in her garden, kitchen and sewing room. She notes that sewing was a hobby she picked up during the rainy Portland winters during law school, and the Zen she found crafting has endured.

“You can spend five hours in the law library or in front of a computer, and what do you have to show for it? Spend five hours at a sewing machine or in the kitchen and you have something tangible to show and share for your time and effort.”

Looking back on an impressive career, Catherine Turner can be proud of the thousands of lives she’s impacted and the distinguished role she’s played in our courts. And while she has accomplished many achievements to date, like Turner, we’re excited to look ahead to many more in the coming years. 

Catherine Turner

At a Glance

Catherine Turner Criminal Defense
331 Second Ave. South, Suite 705
Minneapolis, MN 55401
(612) 361 4895
[email protected]

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