A recently retired judge who served on the bench in Minnesota for more than a quarter century, the director of the Safe Harbor program at Minnesota’s health department, and the director of the Prison to Law Pipeline at the Legal Revolution are being honored with this year’s alumni awards from the Mitchell Hamline Alumni Association.
Senior Judge Denise Reilly ‘83 is receiving the Outstanding Alumni Award for her public service to the state of Minnesota for more than a quarter century as a district court judge and member of the Court of Appeals. Caroline Palmer ‘98 is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award for her dedication to the work of stopping human trafficking and working on behalf of survivors. Maya Johnson ‘20 is being honored with the Recent Alumni Award for her work to reform the criminal justice system in Minnesota through her work at the organization All Square and The Legal Revolution.
“Our alums continue to do incredible work to serve the public in ways that continue to try to perfect justice in our state and country,” said Allison Burke ’09, Mitchell Hamline’s director of development and alumni relations. “This year’s recipients show the wide variety of ways our alums meet the moment.”
Outstanding Alumni Award – Senior Judge Denise Reilly ‘83
Recognizing alumni who have demonstrated commitment to the school.
Reilly is a 1983 graduate of William Mitchell College of Law and served nine years on Mitchell Hamline’s board of trustees, from 2012-2022. She was a district court judge for nearly 17 years before being named to the Court of Appeals in 2014. She recently retired from the court as she approached the mandatory retirement age and will soon take senior judge status.
In 2009, Reilly was one of three judges to serve on a panel that heard the trial in the recount of the U.S. Senate election between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. The panel eventually unanimously ruled that Franken won. Before becoming a judge, she was an assistant U.S. attorney for eight years and an attorney at Lindquist & Vennum before that. She started her career as a law clerk to the late U.S. District Judge Robert Renner.
Distinguished Alumni Award – Caroline Palmer ‘98
Recognizing alumni who demonstrate the highest values and ethical standards in achieving professional distinction or lasting contributions to their field of endeavor, including professional accomplishments of a distinctly creative or challenging nature or outstanding leadership within the profession.
Caroline Palmer is the Safe Harbor director at the Minnesota Department of Health, where she focuses on building collaboration across government and private sectors on behalf of survivors of human trafficking. She is responsible for policy development, grantee oversight, project management, and data/evaluation management.
Before joining the state, Palmer was the policy and legal affairs manager at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault for over a decade. She has also served as the pro bono development director at the Minnesota State Bar Association; was a staff attorney at the Minnesota AIDS Project; and has a long history in arts journalism.
Recent Alumni Award – Maya Johnson ‘20
Recognizing alumni who have made significant contributions to their community, Mitchell Hamline, and/or the legal profession within the first 10 years following graduation.
Maya Johnson joined the organization All Square and its subsidiary, the Legal Revolution, in 2022 to direct its Prison to Law Pipeline. The program works with currently incarcerated people in Minnesota who are seeking legal education opportunities. The work includes a partnership that resulted in Mitchell Hamline becoming in 2022 the first ABA-approved law school in the country to educate currently incarcerated individuals.
Johnson previously worked as a staff attorney for Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services and clerked during law school for the Minnesota state Appellate Public Defender’s Office, the ACLU of Minnesota, and the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office. She also was a certified student attorney with the Mitchell Hamline LAMP and Reentry clinics.
There will be an event to celebrate these award recipients at our Alumni Award Reception on October 5 from 5-7pm. Learn more about the event and register here.