Paul was born and raised in Bloomington, Minnesota, the son of two public school educators. His dad, Frank, grew up on a farm in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, that the family still owns, and worked for the Saint Paul Public Schools as a teacher, counselor, and administrator. His mom, Barb, worked for many years as a special education teacher for the Richfield and Bloomington Public Schools.
After graduating from the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minnesota, Thissen graduated from Harvard University in 1989. He earned a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1992 and then returned home to Minnesota. He and his wife Karen have three children – Emily, Griffin and Evan.
While at Briggs and Morgan, Paul served as chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee. He pioneered new approaches for lawyers to serve the community, initiating partnerships with several local non-profits. The firm more than doubled the hours of free legal services it provided to low-income individuals and nonprofits. Paul founded “Access for Persons with Disabilities,” a group of lawyers dedicated to providing legal services to persons with disabilities. And, of course, Paul also represented lots of clients for free – individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries who sought asylum in the United States, victims of domestic abuse, people fighting to keep their family home. And for a decade he worked with a team who ultimately succeeded in freeing an individually wrongfully sentenced to death row in Texas.
Thissen later worked as an attorney specializing in health care law at the Minneapolis office of the law firm of Ballard Spahr. In 2006, he was named one of “Forty Under 40” top business professionals in the Twin Cities by the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal. In 2008, he was named one of the “Best Brains” in the Twin Cities by Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. In 2008 and 2012, Paul was recognized as one of the 100 Influential Minnesotans in Health Care by Physician Magazine.
Paul served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for 16 years and served as Speaker of the Minnesota House from 2013 to 2015 – years that were among the most productive in a generation. He was laser-focused on delivering results for everyday Minnesotans. Under Paul’s leadership, Minnesota enacted the first significant investment in early childhood education in Minnesota history; all-day, every-day kindergarten for every five-year-old in the state; imposed a tuition freeze for public college and university students; legalized same-sex marriage; expanded health coverage for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans; increased the minimum wage; enacted $550 million in middle-class tax cuts; and passed the Women’s Economic Security Act which includes pay equity requirements for state contractors, workplace protections for caregivers and new mothers, and incentives for women entrepreneurs. The Washington Post named Paul an “Emerging Star Outside the Beltway” and the Star Tribune concluded that “Minnesota is once again a state that works.
Paul was named Legislator of the Year by Politics in Minnesota, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, the Minnesota Nurses Association and ARC Minnesota among others. He received the Minnesota High Tech Association Public Service Award, the Standing Ovation Award from Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, and the Civic Leadership Award from the Citizen’s League.
Paul has been active in many community activities. He served on the boards of the Minnesota Justice Foundation, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Women of Nations domestic abuse shelter and other community organizations.
In April 2018, Governor Mark Dayton appointed Paul to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
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Minnesotans for Justice Paul Thissen