Veterans Defense Project Board

Chairman: Thomas C. Plunkett

Tom Plunkett is a criminal defense lawyer with both a state and federal court practice.  Prior to becoming a lawyer, Mr. Plunkett was an officer and attack helicopter pilot in the United States Army and Army Reserve. After completing law school, Mr. Plunkett left Army Aviation to join the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. Mr. Plunkett’s talents as an attorney were called on by the military to draft the Minnesota Military Code and Minnesota Rules for Court Martial. Mr. Plunkett “wrote the book” for military courts in Minnesota. This code has subsequently been used as the model for many other states.  Mr. Plunkett has defended many veterans facing criminal charges, including a high profile federal bank robbery case.

Veterans Defense Project Board

Vice Chairman: John Kingrey

John Kingrey retired after more than 14 years as the executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. He previously was a senior vice-president with the Minnesota Hospital Association and served as a staff assistant to Governor Rudy Perpich. Kingrey also served a combined 30 years in the Marine Corps and Army Reserves before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. He currently volunteers for several veteran’s organizations and serves on the Boards of the Innocence Project MN, Animal Folks, and the Armed Forces Service Center.

Veterans Defense Project Board

Treasurer: Keith LeBlanc

Keith LeBlanc is a retired executive who spent a career in Sales, marketing and General Management. Keith’s a Vietnam Veteran who served on an Advisory Team as an intelligence asset working in the Phoenix program. Keith’s business background was in the consumer package goods industry, wholesale paper distribution and printing and packaging manufacturing Industry. Keith has spent the last 3 years as volunteer mentor in the Ramsey County Veterans diversion court program. Keith serves on several boards but is committed to serving returning veterans to insure they are treated respectfully and supported by the VA system. Keith was King Boreas for the Saint Paul Winter Carnival in 2011 and is on the ICE LLC . Board of Governor’s building an Ice Palace in St Paul for the 2018 Super Bowl year in Minnesota.

Veterans Defense Project Board

Secretary: Evan Tsai

Evan Tsai is an Assistant Public Defender in Ramsey County, Minnesota where he practices primarily criminal defense.  Mr. Tsai devotes his professional time to representing the poor and indigent in all criminal matters including trial.  Mr. Tsai is also an adjunct law professor at William Mitchell College of Law and a legal writing instructor at Metropolitan State University.  Mr. Tsai is also a frequent guest speaker at area high schools and colleges, including the University of Minnesota.  He volunteers his time to judge collegiate mock trial.  Mr. Tsai is a graduate of William Mitchell College of Law where he co-founded the William Mitchell Journal of Law and Practice.  He received the CALI Award in Public Health Law and was the recipient of several scholarships, including the Robert E. Oliphant Marine Corps Scholarship.  Mr. Tsai received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.  Mr. Tsai served as a United States Marine and was honorably discharged in 1999.  Mr. Tsai spends his free time performing with fellow public defenders in the band “The Family Feedbag.”  He plays bass and acoustic guitar; piano; drums and electric organ.

Veterans Defense Project Board

Bruce Richardson

Bruce Richardson was one of the most highly trained soldiers in the US Army as an airborne, ranger, artillery officer. He was also the closest thing West Point had to an English major. He still loves Shakespeare. He is a Wharton MBA, a recovering CPA and former CFO. He served for 16 years on the St. Louis Park school board and for 10 years on the Association of Metropolitan School Districts board where he served on the Executive and Legislative committees. He continues to serve on the St. Louis Park Public Schools Foundation board where he is active in fund raising. He is a facilitator for “Echoes of War” and Veterans Voices discussion groups at the Minnesota Humanities Center. He does organizational work for the Minnesota Student Leadership Seminar and consults on leadership, values and strategy for RSI Consulting. He and his wife Audrey live in St. Louis Park. They have two children, a large extended family and a new granddaughter.

Veterans Defense Project Board

Peter Orput

Peter Orput is the Washington County Attorney. He was elected to that position in November, 2010. Prior to becoming county attorney, Pete served as an assistant Hennepin County attorney in the violent crime section of that office. There, Pete prosecuted primarily robberies, weapons and homicide cases. Prior to joining the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, Pete served as general counsel to the Minnesota Department of Corrections and prior to that served in the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office as the deputy attorney general in charge of the public protection section. Pete also served as lead prosecutor for a state anti-gang initiative for five years. In that position with the attorney general’s office, Pete prosecuted gang murders and drug dealing offenses throughout the state.

Pete formerly served for seven years as an assistant Washington County attorney. He has served as faculty at the National District Attorneys’ College in Columbia, South Carolina for numerous prosecutor courses including complex trial advocacy, persuasion and cross examination. Pete also formerly served as faculty at St. Mary’s University in their law enforcement program where he taught legal aspects of police leadership. Pete is a former high school teacher and Marine and has served as legal counsel to the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association since 1994.

Veterans Defense Project Board

Michael Dickinson

Michael Dickinson is a Retired Navy Chief who served 21 years, He has a Masters of Social Work from The University of Minnesota Duluth. Formally he worked at the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) doing discharge planning for incarcerated veterans and veterans struggling with mental health and homelessness issues. Currently, he is working with St Louis County as a case manager in Mental Health with a focus on veterans, providing assistance to help bridge the gap from military to civilian life. This role also has him actively involved in Duluth (St Louis County) Veterans Treatment Court. He is one of the founding board members of The Veterans Defense Project, still serving today.

 

Veterans Defense Project Board

Hank Shea

Hank Shea is a Senior Distinguished Fellow at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, where he has taught ethics and criminal law-related courses for the last 10 years. Mr Shea also is  a Professor of Practice at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in Tucson. He previously served for 20 years as an Assistant U. S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota. Hank also served four years of active duty as an Assistant to the Army General Counsel and seven years as a reservist in the Army Judge Advocate General Corps.

Veterans Defense Project Board

Raymond Wilson

Raymond Wilson is originally from Salem, NJ. He attended Woodstown High School and Glassboro State College. Since he was a young boy, all he wanted to do was be a pilot. He joins the US Army in 1968 and served 22 years honorably and retired a CW4 Aviation Officer. He flew numerous combat and support missions in Vietnam. He qualified on 4 different aircraft and after Vietnam was a trainer on two of them. He then joined Northwest Airlines in 1990, becoming a Senior Aircraft Training Instructor and a test and ferry pilot on the B727 and B747. In 2005, he started flying helicopters for Life Link 3, providing medical flights for critical care patients. In 2015 he became a volunteer Veteran Mentor to participants of the Ramsey County Veterans Treatment Court where he is working with his second participant after the graduation of his first. He is a member of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association and was awarded the MN Humanities Center Veterans Voices Award in 2017 as well as participated in the Vietnam Telling Project as a participant in the Telling Project play that was broadcast on Twin Cities Public Television in the fall of 2017.

Veterans Defense Project Board

Sara Sommerstrom

Sara Sommarstrom serves as the Vetlaw Director for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, working with attorneys and non-lawyers across the state of Minnesota to remove and reduce legal barriers to stability for veterans experiencing homelessness and other life crises. Ms. Sommarstrom is a 2005 graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, where she received the Excellence in Public Service Award, given to one member of the graduating class annually.  After graduation, she served two years as an Equal Justice Works/AmeriCorps Fellow with the Minnesota Justice Foundation (MJF) before joining the staff of MJF full-time as a staff attorney and ultimately program director. Sara teaches as an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and has received the University of St. Thomas School of Law Mission Award for Excellence in Professional Preparation, 2009 Staff Woman of the Year Award and 2010 Faculty Woman of the Year Award.  She is a member of the ABA Veterans Legal Services Initiative, co-chair of the ABA Coordinating Committee on Veterans Benefits and Services, a liaison to the ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, and an active member of several state and local bar association committees. Ms. Sommarstrom was honored to receive recognition as a 2014 Unsung Hero from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans for her work on addressing legal barriers to housing and employment stability for homeless veterans.

Veterans Defense Project Board

Patrick J McLain

Patrick J McLain is an award-winning trial lawyer.  He is recognized as AV (pre-eminent) by Martindale-Hubbell, as an AVVO Client’s Choice attorney by his client and peer reviews, and as a SuperLawyer since 2009 by Thomson Reuters’ lawyer rating service.  Patrick has tried hundreds of cases in federal, state, and military courts and administrative proceedings all over the world.  He started his legal career during the last twelve of his twenty years’ service in the U.S. Marine Corps, and he tried his first contested case, a rape trial, in a tent on the sands of Manifa Bay, Saudi Arabia.  Formerly a prosecutor in military and federal courts and a trial judge in courts-martial, his true passion has been defending the citizen accused of crimes – whether civilian or in uniform.  Patrick has been honored with many teaching positions and awards, both in military and civilian life, but he has found his true home as an advocate at Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College (TLC).  He admires the courage, integrity, and compassion of the leaders, staff, and students of the TLC.  This year, Patrick presently serves as the President of the F Warriors, the alumni association for the TLC.

Veterans Defense Project Board

Caroline Durham

Caroline Durham has served as a criminal defense lawyer for more than twenty-five years.  Her commitment to ensuring that individuals charged with crimes receive the best representation possible involves a client-centered, focusing on the complexity of needs presented by the individuals she represents.  As Training Coordinator for the Federal Defender Second Chair Program, she develops and trains young lawyers seeking to serve on the federal conflicts panel (CJA) She served as an Assistant Federal Defender in the District of Minnesota for eight years and continues to have a strong federal practice.  She served as assistant public defenders for Anoka and Hennepin County Public Defenders offices and takes cases on special assignment.  She is dedicated to the wellness of the profession and leads mindfulness classes for lawyers through the Stone Catcher’s Path training programs.

Veterans Defense Project Board

Karl Carlson

Karl Carlson joined the Marines immediately after high school as an enlisted man who went on to Officer Candidate School serving in a variety of positions including a combat tour in Vietnam and retired as a Major.  His second career, he was as a retail executive with Target Corporation retiring as a Senior Vice President.  He later became a high school teacher teaching at-risk youth until his medical retirement was mandated.  Karl has been active in many Veteran related non-profits and has mentored in the Ramsey County Veteran’s Court for the past three years.  He is a graduate of the Citadel as well as the University of Minnesota.