Interpreting at a young age for neighbors in need "grounded me, quite honestly, in identifying what my purpose in life would be,” Luz Frías said. Credit: Luz Maria Frías

From a young age, Luz Maria Frías said, she made it her life’s work to “elevate the voices of those who’ve been marginalized in our society.”

Soon, she’ll be applying this approach to a top position in the state’s top legal office.

Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Thursday that he was appointing Luz Maria Frías as a deputy attorney general. Frías has been a known figure in the Twin Cities legal and advocacy communities for the last three decades.

The details of what area of law Frías will focus on are still being worked out, but she said she’ll be working with the Department of Human Rights and the Department of Human Services. 

She currently runs a consulting business and most recently served as president and CEO of YWCA Minneapolis. Before then, Frías worked as vice president of community development at the Minneapolis Foundation. Frías also served in several positions for former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, including working as the city’s first director of its Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Department. 

She also co-hosts MPR’s Counter Stories, where she and others discuss news from the perspectives of people of color. 

Ellison praised Frías as a “highly skilled attorney, manager, policy strategist, and public servant.”

“She’s also been leading on race and gender equity long before most people grasped the urgency of it,” Ellison said in a prepared statement. “She’s a great fit for the Attorney General’s Office and will help me push forward our work to help Minnesotans afford their lives and live with dignity and respect.”

Frías, 57, grew up on the west side of Chicago, raised by Mexican-American parents who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s. At the age of 11, Frías remembered helping a neighbor navigate the unemployment system by walking to the office and interpreting for him. Helping neighbors in situations like this soon became common, and Frías soon started keeping a daily calendar for it. 

“That’s what really grounded me, quite honestly, in identifying what my purpose in life would be,” she said. 

This drove her interest in law school at the University of Iowa and a legal career in the Twin Cities. 

Throughout her career, Frías maintained a focus on race equity, doing her best to incorporate the issue into her work as an attorney. In the early 1990s, she was CEO and chief legal officer at the now-defunct Centro Legal, which offered free and low-cost legal representation to immigrants in areas like family law and immigration law.

Here, she recalled coming across a court interpreter who would extort her clients for under-the-table fees for her service, which was supposed to be provided for free. After gathering sworn affidavits from several clients, Frías and her colleagues pressured the Hennepin County Court Administrator to fire the interpreter. The administrator at first refused, but removed the interpreter when she threatened to go to public with the story, Frias said.   

In the early-to-mid 2000s, Frías served as a family court magistrate in Ramsey and Hennepin counties. In this role, she said she often pressured prosecutors who would treat white defendants more favorably than people of color. 

“I would ask the county attorneys to explain to me how a case at 1:30 p.m. of a Black defendant was different from the 10:30 a.m. case of the white defendant, when in fact they had the same pattern, but the white defendant was offered a plea deal,” she said. 

Her pressure would get county attorneys to relent and treat defendants more fairly, she said. 

Frías begins her work at the Attorney General’s Office on Aug. 10.

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...