News Item
For first time, five female chief judges in Minnesota district courts

Posted: Monday, June 26, 2017

In 1991, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to have a female majority on its highest court, when the honorable Sandra S. Gardebring was appointed as the fourth female justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. On July 1, Minnesota will reach a new milestone, as, for the first time in state history, five of the state’s 10 judicial districts will be overseen by female chief judges.
By state statute, Minnesota’s 87 district courts are organized into 10 judicial districts for administrative purposes. One district court judge in each judicial district is elected as a chief judge by the bench for a two-year term, and is responsible for management of the entire judicial district. Chief judges can serve two consecutive two-year terms.
On July 1, new and reelected chief judges will assume their positions in the state’s five odd-numbered judicial districts:
First Judicial District: The Honorable Kathryn Davis Messerich (bio, first term as Chief Judge)
The First Judicial District includes the district courts in Carver, Dakota, Goodhue, Le Sueur, McLeod, Scott, and Sibley counties.
Third Judicial District: The Honorable Jodi L. Williamson (bio, first term as Chief Judge)
The Third Judicial District includes the district courts in Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, and Winona counties.
Fifth Judicial District: The Honorable Michelle A. Dietrich (bio, first term as Chief Judge)
The Fifth Judicial District includes the district courts in Blue Earth, Brown, Cottonwood, Faribault, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Rock, and Watonwan counties.
Seventh Judicial District: The Honorable Jay D. Carlson (bio, first term as Chief Judge)
The Seventh Judicial District includes the district courts in Becker, Benton, Clay, Douglas, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Otter Tail, Stearns, Todd, and Wadena counties.
Ninth Judicial District: The Honorable Paul T. Benshoof (bio, reelected for second term as Chief Judge)
The Ninth Judicial District includes the district courts in Aitkin, Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, Kittson, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, and Roseau counties.
The chief judges in the even-numbered judicial districts will begin the second year of their two-year terms on July 1:
Second Judicial District: The Honorable John H. Guthmann (bio)
The Second Judicial District serves Ramsey County.
Fourth Judicial District: The Honorable Ivy S. Bernhardson (bio)
The Fourth Judicial District serves Hennepin County.
Sixth Judicial District: The Honorable Sally L. Tarnowski (bio)
The Sixth Judicial District includes the district courts in Carlton, Cook, Lake, and St. Louis counties.
Eighth Judicial District: The Honorable Michael J. Thompson (bio)
The Eighth Judicial District includes the district courts in Big Stone, Chippewa, Grant, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Meeker, Pope, Renville, Stevens, Swift, Traverse, Wilkin, and Yellow Medicine counties.
Tenth Judicial District: The Honorable Douglas B. Meslow (bio)
The Tenth Judicial District includes the district courts in Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Pine, Sherburne, Washington, and Wright counties.
By statute, the chief judge of a judicial district exercises general administrative authority over the courts within the district, including assigning judges to serve in locations throughout the district. The chief judge of each judicial district also serves as a member of the Minnesota Judicial Council, the administrative policy-making authority for the Minnesota Judicial Branch.
Today, 43% of the state’s district court judges are female (125 of 291 judgeships), 53% of the judges on the Minnesota Court of Appeals are female (10 of 19 judges), and 57% of the justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court are female (4 of 7 justices).