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Greg Galler Viewpoint: Who are these judges anyway?

"I've never met a judge before."

When I hear that from folks I usually respond that it is probably a good thing; most people who meet a judge have had something go wrong in their life. While there are 4.5 million Minnesotans, only 289 are judges. As our work tends to be somewhat isolated in impersonal buildings behind formidable security checkpoints, few people really know who we are.

In reality, there are a lot of people who have probably met a judge before but did not know it.

Minnesota's trial courts are divided into 10 districts. Washington County is one of eight counties in the 10th District. There are 45 judges in the 10th District. Ten judges are chambered at the Stillwater courthouse.

Stillwater's judges come from a variety of legal backgrounds. Some practiced law in private law firms; others were public attorneys working as public defenders or for county attorney offices. Some have experience in both public and private practices. Six of our judges are men, four are women.

Stillwater's judges range in experience on the bench from slightly over two years to more than 22 years, with an average of about eight years. Our judges live in the communities of Lake Elmo, Scandia, Stillwater Township, Oak Park Heights, West Lakeland Township and Birchwood Village. Two judges live in Anoka County.

I like to tell people that "judge" describes what I do, not who I am. This is because before being judges, we are all neighbors, parents, spouses and citizens first. While we all have a desire to help society by administering justice, we are involved in our communities too. We send our kids to school, go to church, socialize, and shop right along with everyone else. Many of us also volunteer time to the same types of things that most folks do.

One common theme for judges is a desire to donate time and experience to help young people. Several are active in their churches including teaching Sunday school, and serving on committees and councils. Two volunteer their time with bands, orchestras and other musical ensembles that attempt to bring music to schools and other communities that don't historically have ready access to such things. One leads a photography club that promotes free public exhibitions of art.

A judge volunteers time with a garden club that maintains gardens in public parks. Another is involved in Meals on Wheels and Toys for Tots. One has performed free weddings at the county fair. Some are heavily involved in coaching youth sports ranging from pee wee or little league ages up to and including varsity level high school sports. One volunteers with an international outreach program that sends teachers to China.

Sometimes people are a bit intimidated when they meet a judge. Because of this, most judges are pretty quiet about what we do. Accordingly, if you think you have never met a judge, you may be surprised to learn that in fact you already have.