Profiles in Practice: Saraswati Singh

Saraswati-Singh-400I love being a prosecutor. It’s an especially exciting time to be one. People are having serious discussions on what it means to be a good, fair, and just prosecutor. And—this is the most exciting part—talk is turning into action. We are beginning to use other tools in our tool belt—treatment courts, diversion, stays of adjudication—to more effectively address low level crimes stemming from addiction, mental health issues, and poverty,” reflects Saraswati Singh, a prosecutor in the adult criminal trial division of the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office.

Singh’s life journey informs her approach as a prosecutor and her enthusiasm for the job. Her path began in New York. She was born in Brooklyn, moved to Queens, and went to high school in the Bronx. Singh explains, “My classmates were of different genders, races, sexualities, religions, and socioeconomic statuses. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to go to integrated public schools until much later in life. It taught me that we are all the same: we all need to eat, want a safe place to sleep, and have the chance to pursue our dreams.”

Singh attended Colgate University in upstate New York. She spent a semester in Washington D.C., where she interned for her hometown senator at the time, Hillary Clinton and where she met Justice Antonin Scalia. This is where she was bitten by the public service bug. 

After college, Singh worked for then-senator Joe Biden, heading to the Midwest for the first time for the Iowa caucuses. She still remembers feeling excited when she saw the Mississippi River and a bald eagle nearby. She returned to D.C. to manage a government affairs department but ultimately decided to go to law school so that she could develop skills to be a more effective advocate.

Singh eventually moved to Minnesota to attend the University of Minnesota Law School. Her original plan was to go back to D.C. after completing her degree but, “I fell in love with Minnesota. The people are kind and supportive, the Twin Cities are lovely, the Mississippi River is beautiful, and nature is just a short walk away. I’m so happy to be here. It feels like home. Prince was right...the cold keeps the bad people out.”

Singh worked on Elena Kagan’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a Senator on the Judiciary Committee while in law school. One day, the staff recommended that she attend an American Constitution Society (ACS) event and report back. The ACS promotes principles that have driven Singh’s legal career so far, namely that “the law should be a force to improve the lives of all people.” It is no wonder Singh has been co-president of the ACS Minneapolis-St. Paul  Lawyer Chapter three years in a row.

ACS gave Singh the opportunity to learn from people across the ideological spectrum on topics that usually have no easy answers. Through ACS she also met Chief Judge John Tunheim, for whom she later externed, and Ramsey County Attorney Jon Choi, who hired her in early 2018 as an assistant county attorney. In between, 

she worked for U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Nelson, as a law clerk in Hennepin County, and for the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. During these experiences, Singh observed the inequities of the criminal justice system.

“One day on a felony docket [as a law clerk], I looked around the courtroom and noticed that the only minorities were the defendant, and me. Everyone else was white. Then the defendant glanced over at me, and I suddenly realized what was happening. It is one thing to read about disparities in law school but it’s another to actually see and feel it in the real world.” Singh pondered, “The defendants here look more like my high school classmates in New York, but my former classmates are now doctors and work for NASA.”

Singh credits the Hennepin County Bar Association as one of the key factors to her professional growth. “I joined right after being admitted to the bar. It was a place where I saw people like me at every step of the way, including what professional life could be like 40 years down the road. There are judges to partners at law firms to public servants in the largest legal hub in Minnesota. They are supportive and interested in my success as an attorney. I stay involved to keep seeing the friendly faces, to help other attorneys rise in the profession, and to keep my thumb on the pulse in this large legal market.”  

As a prosecutor, Singh handles sexual assault, gun possession, and attempted murder cases. Singh describes the team Choi has been building as “incredible attorneys who are also reflective of our community.” Singh fully supports the Office’s efforts to focus on sexual assault, domestic violence, and other violent cases. “These types of cases are tough for many reasons: witness tampering, limited evidence, disbelief that someone who looks nice and seems friendly in public could do something so terrible.” Singh believes “It’s important that we pursue cases where victims are women, people of color, LGBTQ, or belong to a different religion. Those cases are particularly difficult because of implicit bias against these types of victims. But prosecutors need to show Minnesotans that we should all care, regardless of whether one feels they connect with a victim, because violent behavior is unacceptable in a civilized society.”  

Singh’s advice to newer lawyers is to follow their hearts. Every time Singh has followed her heart and been her authentic self, it has paid off in bigger ways than she could have imagined. “I’ve learned as a prosecutor what one can learn anywhere—it’s about people. You stand out when you care.”


By Satveer Chaudhary

Mr. Chaudhary is an immigration attorney in Minneapolis, specializing in criminal defense of noncitizens and complex immigration circumstances. He lectures frequently on immigration topics and writes an immigration blog at immigrationqa.com. He also offers consultations to attorneys representing noncitizens in any matter.