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Greta Wiessner: Making the Civil Rights Movement a Modern-Day Reality
Greta Wiessner became a lawyer to fight for justice. An associate in the Civil Rights and Mass Tort groups, she is passionate about advocating for those who feel voiceless in the legal system. It is a passion that stems from her time as a teacher.
For three years, Greta taught fifth grade in low-income communities in Texas. She witnessed firsthand the systemic barriers affecting her students and their families. It was during that time that she experienced one of her first callings to become a civil rights attorney.
It was after she read her students the story of Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana. At the end, she asked for questions, expecting to dive into conversation about the civil rights movement and desegregation. Instead, one of her students raised his hand and asked, “So where do white people have to go to school now?” There were almost no white students at his school. Even in 2013, segregation persisted.
“That was a moment where I thought, ‘What else could I be doing outside the classroom to make the civil rights movement in the modern day a reality?’” she said.
Greta went on to become a public interest fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she explored different areas of social justice lawyering through the Penn Law Immigrant Rights Project, Child Advocacy Clinic, Transnational Legal Clinic, and as a summer law clerk at the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office. She also grew more interested in complex civil litigation.
“With the Mass Tort Group at Robins Kaplan, I realized that I could use my passion for complex litigation to advocate for a lot of people at once, which is a super-effective and interesting way to seek justice,” she said.
After law school, Greta completed two federal clerkships: one on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and the other on the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It was during Greta’s first clerkship that news of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a police officer made national headlines, sparking protests around the world. It also sparked Greta’s interest in moving back to her home state of Minnesota to pursue a career in civil rights law.
“I wanted to be part of the movement for police reform and racial justice and equity that seemed to be ramping up in Minneapolis,” she said.
She researched and inquired about civil rights law firms in Minnesota and was quickly directed to Bob Bennett, a partner at Robins Kaplan with over 40 years of experience in civil rights and police misconduct. In September 2021, Greta joined the firm to work on Bob’s team, becoming the first associate in the Civil Rights and Police Misconduct Group.
“Bob’s team is small but mighty, and they have welcomed me with open arms,” Greta said. “They treat me like I am one of them and have the expectation that I can do the same level of work, which is both exciting and daunting.”
“But when I’m afraid to do something, I do it afraid,” she said.
Since joining the firm, Greta has played a key role in a variety of high-profile cases. Most notably, she argued before the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that a case involving a 12-year-old who died by suicide at the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch should not have been dismissed before discovery. In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the trial court.
“That was a career-high moment for me, and to have that experience during my first year at the law firm was amazing,” Greta said.
Greta has also worked on the national opioid litigation with teams of attorneys from across the country. Opioid-related settlements and bankruptcy claims recently topped the $54 billion mark after Walmart proposed a $3.1 billion settlement with state, local, and tribal governments.
Most recently, Greta argued a motion for summary judgment filed on behalf of Marion Humphrey Jr., who sued an Arkansas State Police trooper after a 2020 traffic stop in which he was detained for nearly two hours – most of that time in handcuffs – before being released with a warning citation. The judge spent four hours questioning both sides.
“The most exciting part for us was hearing the judge validate some of our client’s feelings and impressions, such as this was not best-practices policing or a justified stop,” she said.
Greta is now waiting on an order from the judge and hoping the case heads to trial next year.
These are only a few of the cases that Greta has worked on during her short time at Robins Kaplan. Moving forward, she hopes to continue building her trial skills to ensure her clients have an air-tight case from start to finish.
“I’ve proven myself an excellent researcher and writer and oralist,” Greta said. “Now, I want to become a full-package trial attorney.”
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