LINN — Prosecuting Attorney Amanda Grellner of Linn was honored recently at the Missouri Lawyers Media’s 25th annual Women’s Justice Awards (WJA) for her work as a general …
LINN — Prosecuting Attorney Amanda Grellner of Linn was honored recently at the Missouri Lawyers Media’s 25th annual Women’s Justice Awards (WJA) for her work as a general practitioner.
The WJA program celebrates women across Missouri who have demonstrated leadership, integrity, service, sacrifice, and accomplishment in improving the quality of justice and exemplifying the highest ideals of the legal profession.
Grellner meets the definition of a general practitioner — the woman who, as an attorney, does it all; she handles multiple practice areas with skill — easily between her private practice and role as the prosecutor.
“I am very humbled to be recognized as there are many that work just as hard and are just as deserving,” said Grellner, one of 51 award recipients at the May 18 event at The Royal Sonesta Chase Park Plaza St. Louis.
In 1997, Grellner earned a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. While working for the county prosecutor as a secretary and raising a three-year-old son, she decided to pursue her long-term dream of becoming an attorney.
While attending law school at MU, Grellner continued to work for the prosecuting attorney for a while, then for two law offices as a clerk. She did a brief stint right out of law school at the Department of Revenue.
Grellner graduated from law school in early December 1999 and passed the bar exam in February 2000.
In May of that year, she went to work for Lowell McCuskey at McCuskey Law Office.
In December 2001, Judge Ralph Voss retired, and former Prosecuting Attorney Rob Schollmeyer was appointed to the bench in early 2002. A few weeks later, Gov. Bob Holden appointed Grellner to the prosecutor position.
Since then, she has found a balance between public and private practice, mindful of the citizens she serves.
“I have always worried about the constituents and how they feel,” said Grellner, noting she strikes a balance by remembering that she grew up in Osage County. “I feel like I know our values here, what we expect, how we would all want to be treated, and the outcomes we, as a community, would expect. I have said over the years that I prosecute three types of people. Fortunately, the smallest percentage are the really, really bad criminals who are evil and just do bad things for bad reasons. There is a special and particular punishment for those types of people and cases. The other two types are criminals because they are addicts or have mental health issues, and I do what I can to help them get a new start, or hope to find a way to help them learn to correct their behaviors, however, if they cannot, or will not do that, punishment is at times the only thing available and appropriate. The last are those who make silly, stupid or that one time bad decision. I try to find a way to teach them a lesson that will get them on the right track so they don’t make those decisions again. The goal being that they can have a productive life without that one decision haunting them forever. Those at least deserve the opportunity to move on from that one mistake.”
Grellner added that consistency is essential. “You have to consider each particular crime and circumstance along with the future implications and the intentions of the ‘offender’. It’s not always easy, but after 21 and a half years, I try to use all the tools available to do the best I can with each one. I am certainly not perfect, but I try very hard to serve the citizens of the county in a way that they can appreciate and respect.”
Compassion is also a necessary aspect. “You cannot just look at a crime,” Grellner said. “You need to look at the person and the circumstances and see if you can get to the heart of why that person is doing what they are doing. If you can interfere or intervene and get the young person back on track, that is our job too. Our job is not just punishment; it is to provide an opportunity for learning and growth when appropriate and possible. However, you also always, and most importantly, have to consider the impact that particular crime may have had upon a victim. That is paramount in any decision I make.”
For Grellner, the ultimate fight is to protect the vulnerable in society. “Sometimes that is not so easy, especially with domestic assault victims,” she added. “You try very hard to help them see and understand that there is a way out and you are there to help them, but they are still in the cycle of abuse and keep going back. Where children are concerned, at times their own parent(s) won’t protect them, so it is absolutely my job to do whatever is within my power to protect them, especially when their parent(s) refuse to do so.”
While every case involving a victim who is directly hurt or harmed is difficult, Grellner said the most sensitive is a child abuse case. She recently prosecuted a severe child abuse case as a special PA for Cole County. “The children will never be okay, and even a conviction will never heal these children, but hopefully, it will keep these people from ever hurting another child again. In all honesty, cases like this are the real reason we all do this job.”
Unfortunately, there are times when a defendant can be proven guilty, but a technicality or something else prevents prosecution. “I wish I could count on only one hand how many times this has happened,” said Grellner, noting it happens a lot, especially in domestic violence cases. “Then, they become victims again, so it is really frustrating because you are truly trying to help. However, they aren’t ready to listen or take that next step. There have been others, of course, but those are the ones that stick out the most. I have, at times, told victims that I am not going to give them the option as I am concerned that if I do, I will not see them again alive. It’s a hard conversation because they are trapped in that cycle and cannot get out.”
Grellner takes on a support role outside the courtroom as the Rape and Abuse Crisis Service board chair.
Other volunteer work includes serving as the Community Health Center of Central Missouri board president, a Missouri Supreme Court’s Treatment Court Committee member, and an appointed Disciplinary Hearing Officer for Missouri’s Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel.
Grellner works with the Gasconade-Osage Treatment Court and collaborates with the Osage County Anti-Drug Community Action Team (OC-ADCAT) as a coalition member.
Even with her community involvement on a personal level, Grellner said she has to maintain a separation between her private life and what she encounters as a prosecutor.
“It’s not always easy, I will tell you that. When I first started as prosecutor, I had a murder case that involved a young boy who was my oldest son’s age (and his third cousin, who was beaten to death by his mom’s boyfriend),” she noted. “Sometime later, I had a case where the defendant shot and killed his son, who was very similar in looks and size to my oldest son. So, in looking at autopsy photos and reading reports, I literally had to find a way to put work things like that in a different place in my brain. I learned if I allowed it to permeate and haunt me every minute, I could not effectively do my job, so I found a way to put that in a special place for work and access that when I needed to put that work hat on. That was the only way I could be effective and do the job right – and to give it the attention it deserved.”
Grellner’s biggest motivation has always been her sons. “I wanted to do what I could to help them both through college,” she said. “My biggest motivator to go to law school was to be sure they had a way to further their education, and I could be the support they needed.”
To this point in her career, Grellner has worked 80-90 hours a week, but life has a way of changing quickly. She and her husband, Cody, are in Texas, where he is undergoing a stem-cell transplant procedure to thwart leukemia.
Beyond that situation, Grellner is still determining what she plans to do. “Cody and I have discussed what my career looks like after all of this,” she said. “I don’t know that I will necessarily seek to do anything different from a public service standpoint. A title doesn’t really mean so much to me, to be honest. I measure my career differently. I measure it in how I have been able to support my family, how I can serve the people I serve, and a title doesn’t necessarily do that. Just working to help others is what does that.”
Grellner said when she and Cody return to Linn, she plans to build her private practice back up, but she won’t put in 80-90 hours a week anymore. “I have learned that there are things that you need to focus on and enjoy,” she said. “I will still work plenty – probably closer to 60-70 — but I need to have some weekends off to enjoy my family and really focus on my family from a personal level, not just a level of providing. I will continue to serve the citizens of Osage County. I love it here, and I love the people here. This is where I belong, and I am thankful that God led me back here after law school and not somewhere else.”
The WJAs were established in 1999 by Missouri Lawyers Media, a year after former President Bill Clinton established Women’s History Month, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the women’s rights movement in America.
According to Missouri Lawyers Media Publisher Susan A. Bocamazo, “Women had been making significant contributions to the legal profession since before the founding of our nation. In 1648, Margaret Brent appeared before a court of law in the Maryland colony as the first woman to “act” as an attorney. In 1869, Arabella Mansfield became the first woman admitted to a state bar. In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Clearly, female legal firsts weren’t a new phenomenon in 1999, but it was a time of great anticipation. In just one decade — the 1970s — the number of female attorneys in the U.S. grew from 13,000 to 62,000 — moving from 4% of the profession’s total to 12%. Today, women comprise more than half of law-school students.”
Bocamazo noted that though “parity has not been realized in the profession, great strides have been made since we first started honoring women in the legal field. And now, 25 years after the first WJA recog-nition program, we continue to honor wom-en attorneys in what has become an annual tradition in the Missouri legal community.
“In the 25 years of WJA, the hundreds of outstanding attorneys we have honored have paid it forward in the same way, reaching a hand back to the women who will follow them into the profession,” Bocamazo wrote. “Their contributions are varied, but they all share one characteristic: They are truly exceptional lawyers.”
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