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By Scott Sandlin
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
People who had encountered the ferocity of attorney Mary Yoon C. Han in the courtroom might not have anticipated the generosity and humor she showed to her friends.
Han was found dead at her home in the 3300 block of Colonade NW on Thursday. She was 53.
"There are no obvious signs of foul play," APD spokeswoman Trish Hoffman said, though she did not provide further details. Authorities were dispatched to her home about 12:30 p.m.
"Mary was more than just the hard-driving, talented and uncompromising advocate for her clients that everyone knew," said attorney Terry Storch, who worked with her in the public defender's office soon after Han graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 1985.
"She came to her work with her ethic fully formed about right and wrong, justice and injustice, under-privilege and privilege, powerful and powerless. She also was immensely fun and funny, and the best dance partner I ever had."
Han was outspoken on behalf of women. With her longtime law partner Paul Kennedy, she often represented women in civil rights lawsuits who had been victims of rape.
"She loved the phrase from Thomas Jefferson, equal rights for all, privileges for none," said Kennedy, who worked with her for 22 years.
She served as head of the New Mexico Human Rights Commission and was instrumental in the founding and funding of the nonprofit Susan's Legacy, which aids women with mental illness and addiction.
"If you were a woman who had been abused by cops, she understood. Most people just represent clients ... She just could get it about everybody," said Court of Appeals Judge Linda Vanzi.
Han also represented police officers of both genders.
She litigated for over a decade on behalf of female police officers in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit that was ultimately settled.
Han and Kennedy also successfully defended a vice cop charged with sexual assault after the alleged victim admitted on the witness stand that she lied about being 18.
In 2008, she and Kennedy got a jury to agree that an Albuquerque police officer's lack of investigation of a rape allegation by a restaurant waitress helped lead to the alleged gang rape of another waitress five months later. The jury awarded more than $1 million in damages.
Han and Kennedy served as special counsel to the New Mexico House subcommittee handling the 2005 impeachment proceedings against then-Treasurer Robert Vigil, who resigned before the subcommittee could vote.
Han was born in Seoul to Korean parents and lived in Sri Lanka and Samoa while her father worked as a physician for the United Nations World Health Organization.
She was a runner who could often be seen before dawn on North Valley ditch banks, and an accomplished creator of jewelry — a talent she developed while watching her daughter, Katherine Han-Noggle, play soccer in high school.
Besides her daughter, of San Francisco, she is survived by two sisters, two brothers and her father.
Perhaps nothing demonstrates Han's spirit better than the full-tuition scholarship she anonymously funded at UNM Law School.
The Not-for-the-Top scholarship was available to needy students and was designed to recognize the importance of hard work and tenacity rather than academic achievement, said Peter Winograd, who as associate dean administered the scholarship.
"Those were the qualities of Mary — diligence, taking tough cases, overcoming hurdles, determined," he said. "That's what she was looking for."
Friday, November 19, 2010
Read more: ABQJOURNAL NEWS/METRO: 'Talented' Attorney Found Dead