The Storyteller

Bill Mauzy pays close attention to plot, character and motivation

Published in 2008 Minnesota Super Lawyers Magazine — August 2008

People call Bill Mauzy a criminal defense lawyer. Mauzy prefers something else: storyteller.

After all, he says, “A well-tried criminal defense case is the presentation of a really effective narrative.”

When potential clients visit his office, he listens to the facts and lets his mind arrange them into plot and character and motivation. After an hour or so he’s either thinking something like, “Oh, goodness, this case is going nowhere,” or rehearsing closing arguments in his head. When the latter happens, he takes the case.

Like Lucy Tisland’s. Shortly after the northern Minnesotan woman walked into Mauzy’s office in the early 1980s, he was convinced, he says, that she should just plead guilty. “She shot her husband, who was a minister. Bad fact. Worse fact: He was asleep when she shot him.”

But when he put the plot aside, he discovered that she was an abused woman who feared for her and her children’s lives. Motivation. Mauzy told that story to jurors, and Tisland was acquitted.

Or Dr. James McLeod’s. The St. Louis Park pediatrician was charged in 2004 with molesting two patients, both adolescent boys. Mauzy spent countless hours preparing to tell McLeod’s story, which he read as troubled teenagers not telling the truth. 

He spoke with dozens of McLeod’s co-workers and family members, searching for strong characters (witnesses). He lined up supplemental narrators (experts). He considered his audience (the jury). Then he told McLeod’s story. When he finished, McLeod, too, was acquitted.

Mauzy’s stories didn’t always have happy endings. He worked as a juvenile probation officer during law school and later at the Hennepin County public defender’s office, and those cases were tough. So were the cases when he worked for famed defense attorney Joe Friedberg, who he says gave him “a number of extraordinarily difficult cases to try.”

But he won quite a few of them, which propelled him into the upper echelons of the state’s criminal defense community and bolstered his belief in his abilities. “It’s important early on that you get your sea legs, the confidence that you will prevail,” he says.

Now at 61 and with a thriving private practice, Mauzy has the freedom to sit back and wait for the most intriguing tales to come through the door.

“At this stage of my career, I want to be interested and engaged and believe in the case,” he says.

Case being just another word for story. 

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