The Public Health Law Center at Mitchell Hamline School of Law is pleased to announce the hiring of Joelle Lester as its next executive director. For the past five years, Lester has served as the center’s director of commercial tobacco control programs. She succeeds founder Doug Blanke, who retired in June 2022. Her first day as executive director will be January 3, 2023.
“I am excited to step into this role at such a pivotal moment for public health and the law. The center is unique in its use of legal expertise to support community-led policy change, and after ten years of being a part of it, this continues to be exactly where I want to be,” said Lester. “It has been an honor to work alongside my incredible colleagues, doubling the size and reach of our commercial tobacco control programs since 2017.
“As executive director, I hope to continue to expand the center’s reach in all our work as we deepen our efforts to center equity and justice.”
Lester joined the center in 2012 and has become a respected national leader in commercial tobacco control law and policy. Early in her tenure, she spearheaded the center’s work partnering with Black-led organizations to advocate for a federal ban on menthol cigarettes. After years of advocacy by these organizations, the FDA proposed a regulation to this effect in April 2022.
“The Public Health Law Center couldn’t have made a better choice than Joelle Lester to lead the organization,” said Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the Center for Black Health and Equity. “Joelle is a partner in the truest sense of the word, and I am pleased to work with her in this new role.”
In June, Lester was given the Velvet Fist Award for steadfast commitment to saving Black lives, awarded by the Center for Black Health and Equity and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, at the National Conference on Tobacco or Health in New Orleans.
“Joelle Lester has been a leader in providing education and training, litigation support, and zealous advocacy – not just for tobacco control measures but for larger questions of health equity,” said Mitchell Hamline President and Dean Anthony Niedwiecki. “She is an ideal choice to lead the center into the next phase of its work.” The center is a nonprofit organization and a wholly owned subsidiary of Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
Prior to joining the center, Lester worked as a litigation associate at the Minneapolis firm of McGrann Shea Carnival Straughn & Lamb, Chartered. Before attending law school, she was a grassroots organizer, organizing director, and executive director of the Oregon Student Association, a nonprofit higher education advocacy group. Lester also worked as a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, advocating for public K–12 education. She earned a B.A. in psychology and women’s studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.