Joelle Lester leads the development and implementation of the Public Health Law Center’s programs to deliver legal expertise to support community-led policy change. Building on more than two decades of experience in public policy and law, Joelle is working to expand the Center's reach in climate change, healthy food access, and commercial tobacco control while deepening efforts to center equity and justice.
Joelle joined the Center in 2012 and has become a respected national leader in commercial tobacco control law and policy. Early in her tenure, she spearheaded the Center’s work partnering with Black-led organizations to advocate for a federal ban on menthol cigarettes. After years of advocacy by these organizations, the FDA proposed a regulation to this effect in April 2022.
In June 2022, Lester was given the Velvet Fist Award for steadfast commitment to saving Black lives, awarded by the Center for Black Health and Equity and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. She has also been recognized by the International Municipal Lawyers Association with its Amicus Service Award in 2022 and 2023.
Prior to joining the Center, Lester worked as a litigation associate at the Minneapolis firm of McGrann Shea Carnival Straughn & Lamb, Chartered. Before attending law school, Lester was a grassroots organizer, organizing director, and executive director of the Oregon Student Association, a nonprofit higher education advocacy group. She also worked as a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, advocating for public K–12 education. Lester earned a B.A. in psychology and women’s studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.