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Suzanne Flinsch of Afton loved gardening, her family, her red Volvo and the law. A longtime public defender, she was a pioneering female attorney and a mentor to other female lawyers, colleagues said.

Flinsch, 69, died at her Afton home last week from congestive, obstructive pulmonary disorder, said her husband, Jim Flinsch. An avid chef, she also served briefly as the St. Paul city attorney in 1978-79, an assistant prosecutor for Ramsey and Dakota counties and an Afton City Council member.

When Flinsch began her career in the early 1970s, she was one of the few female attorneys, said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, then a young prosecutor.

"I remember her well as a public defender in this [Hastings] courthouse," he said. "She was well prepared and made strong arguments on behalf of her clients. ... She earned the respect of myself and every one in this office."

"She was definitely a pioneer" for female attorneys, said Lisa Kloster, who worked with Flinsch in the First Judicial District public defender's officer in Hastings. "She was one of the first female attorneys and often the only woman in the courtroom with judges and attorneys."

Ramsey County Board Commissioner Janice Rettman ran the St. Paul housing information office when she met Flinsch in the mid-1970s. As an assistant city attorney Flinsch handled DWIs, unlawful detainers and other misdemeanor cases. "She was very perceptive to what was going on" in court, Rettman recalled. "She always seemed to have an ace in the hole if she needed it. She did that extra bit of homework."

"She loved her family and she loved the law," Rettman said. "She wanted to make sure the system works the way it is supposed to work ... that it should be fair to all, and respect everyone, including defendants."

Jim Flinsch said his wife's passion was public defense because without state-paid defenders, "people who couldn't afford it would never get legal representation. ... She was a champion of the poor."

She also was an "astonishing gardener" and cook, he said, who built a pond amid the hostas, lilacs, lilies, bleeding hearts and other flowers she planted around their wooded Afton home.

"She was a person of very simple wants," Flinsch said. "All she really ever wanted were bright red, hot little Volvos. They were high performance. She had four or five of them" during her career, he said.

Suzanne Flinsch was on the Afton City Council in the 1990s and was caught up in a dispute with a disgruntled resident. The resident sued her and two other council members for violating the state Open Meeting Law when they discussed the repair of a city well in private in 1991.

But a Court of Appeals panel ruled that the Open Meeting violation was unintentional, which permitted Afton's insurer to cover about $63,000 in legal costs for the three council members, according to reports in the Star Tribune.

In addition to her husband, Flinsch is survived by their three children: Montgomery, James and Elizabeth, all of Minnesota; five grandchildren and several siblings. Services have been held.