Thursday, March 7, 2013


I have a quote from Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on my bulletin board at work that says, “None of us has gotten where we are by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.  We got here because somebody bent down and helped us.”

As I reflect on the people in my profession that have bent down and helped me, I realize that I am truly standing on their shoulders. 

Everett Young was my first law partner and my mentor.  He didn’t so much lecture as taught by example, whether it was dealing with a difficult legal issue or dealing with a difficult client.  He taught me patience, which has come in very handy in the position I have now!

Kenneth W. Bull was the presiding Sibley County Court Judge through all my years practicing law.  In fact, Judge Bull saw me as a teenager when I drove my father’s car a wee bit too fast one night!  Judge Bull taught me many lessons that I have applied during my years presiding in Court.  The most important, I think, was that people – lawyers and their clients – have a right to know how the judge arrives at his decision.  Judge Bull almost always included a Memorandum to his orders that explained how and why he reached the decision he did.  I did not always agree with the decisions he made (just as at least half of the folks who appear before me disagree with my decisions), but I always appreciated knowing the thought process that went into the final decision.

When a judge takes office in Minnesota, there are a couple of weeks that he or she shadows a sitting judge, just to get a feel for the job.  There were two judges that I shadowed that gave me advice that has survived the decades I have been on the bench.  John Fitzgerald was a crusty Irishman, who attempted to hide his heart of gold behind a veneer of grouchiness.  When a Defendant deserved to go to jail, Judge Fitzgerald sent him to jail.  If second chance was in order, the Defendant got that, along with a lecture from the judge that encouraged him never to come back in trouble again!

The other was Judge Michael Young, who showed me how to take a guilty plea so that all the rights were respected and all the necessary facts were placed on the record, but done so in the least amount of time necessary.  Not all his cases went quickly – if a litigant or a lawyer needed more time to make his case, Judge Young made sure it was available.  But no time was wasted in his courtroom!  Since the caseloads per judge have only increased since my early days on the bench, this advice and example has served me, and the people who appear before me, well.  

The most often heeded advice I received when appointed to the bench, from many colleagues was  this:  Always use the rest room before getting on the bench.  You never know how long those lawyers are going to talk!

*  *  *  *  *

Next Week:  First Day on the Bench