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2018 Report to the Community

The 2018 Annual Report of the Minnesota Judicial Branch

Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea
Dear fellow Minnesotans,

I am pleased to present, on behalf of the judicial officers and staff of the Minnesota Judicial Branch, the 2018 Annual Report to the Community. The report is intended to give you a comprehensive view on the work and improvements implemented to increase access to justice in our great state. 
One of the first promises made in Minnesota’s Constitution is the right for all “to obtain justice freely…promptly and without delay.” The judicial officers and staff of the Minnesota Judicial Branch strive every day to make that promise a reality for all while working to enhance the trust and confidence in our state courts.
In this report you will find a summary of efforts made in 2018 to ensure fair and timely access to justice, increase the efficiency and effectiveness of court operations, and improve outcomes for those who enter our justice system. This includes:
  • Growing on the successes of reengineering of our court processes to ensure convenient, consistent, and customer-focused innovations;
  • Expanding on the nationally-recognized tools offered to support self-represented litigants; 
  • Increasing the oversight and review of conservator-managed accounts and support services for guardians;
  • Updating and making permanent the pilot for cameras in district courtrooms during criminal cases;
  • Increasing electronic tools to make judicial and court administration more efficient.
There were many achievements made by our employees and judges in 2018. The Minnesota Judicial Branch is committed to our mission to provide equal access for the timely resolution of cases and controversies. I hope you find this report informative and useful.

Lorie S. Gildea
Chief Justice
Minnesota Supreme Court

The Judicial Branch Mission

To provide justice through a system that assures equal access for the fair and timely resolution of cases and controversies.


Judicial Branch Overview

There are three levels of court in Minnesota: district courts, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. District courts are located in each of the state’s 87 counties and are divided among 10 judicial districts for administration purposes.

The Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court is the administrative head of the Judicial Branch and responsible for its overall management. The Chief Justice chairs the Minnesota Judicial Council, the administrative, policy-making body for the Judicial Branch.

The State Court Administrator serves as staff to the Judicial Council. The State Court Administrator’s Office provides central administrative infrastructure services to the entire Judicial Branch, including human resources, finance, legal research, information technology, communications, statewide program management, and research and evaluation services.

The Chief Justice leads the Supreme Court, which, in addition to resolving the cases that come before the Court, has the responsibility for regulating the practice of law and for the promulgation of statewide rules of procedure and practice for all courts of the state. There are seven justices on the Supreme Court.

There is a chief judge of the Court of Appeals, appointed by the governor for a three-year term, who serves as the head of that Court. There are 19 judges on the Court of Appeals.

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 the management of the entire judicial district. The chief judge is assisted by a judicial district administrator. In 2018, the district courts were served by 294 district court judges, 23 referees, and 28 child support magistrates.

In 2018 there were 106 Judicial Branch court locations across Minnesota.

Judicial Branch FY2019 Budget

District (Trial) Courts: $294,978,000
Court of Appeals:  $12,470,000
Supreme Court/State Court Administration/State Law Library: $38,011,000
Total:  $345,459,000

Minnesota Judicial Council
Chief Judges
Chief Judge Kathryn Davis Messerich

Chief Judge Kathryn Davis Messerich First Judicial District

Chief Judge John H. Guthmann

Chief Judge John H. Guthmann Second Judicial District

Chief Judge Jodi L. Williamson

Chief Judge Jodi L. Williamson Third Judicial District

Chief Judge Ivy S. Bernhardson

Chief Judge Ivy S. Bernhardson Fourth Judicial District

Chief Judge Michelle A. Dietrich

Chief Judge Michelle A. Dietrich Fifth Judicial District

Chief Judge Sally L. Tarnowski

Chief Judge Sally L. Tarnowski Sixth Judicial District
St. Louis

Chief Judge Jay D. Carlson

Chief Judge Jay D. Carlson Seventh Judicial District

Chief Judge Dwayne N. Knutsen

Chief Judge Dwayne N. Knutsen Eighth Judicial District
Yellow Medicine

Chief Judge Tamara L. Yon

Chief Judge Tamara L. Yon Ninth Judicial District

Chief Judge Douglas B. Meslow

Chief Judge Douglas B. Meslow Tenth Judicial District

Minnesota Judicial Branch Strategic Plan

Every two years, the Minnesota Judicial Council directs a comprehensive strategic planning process that defines the Judicial Branch’s major goals for the upcoming biennium, and creates an operational roadmap to achieve those goals. The Minnesota Judicial Branch’s major goals for the current FY2018-19 Strategic Plan are as follows:

District Courts
294 Judgeships, 10 Judicial Districts, 106 hearing facilities 
Jurisdiction: Civil Actions, Criminal Cases, Family, Juvenile, Probate, Violations of City Ordinances
Appeals from: Conciliation Court*
Conciliation Division: Civil Disputes up to $15,000 
*Called trial de novo - actually a new trial, not just a review of the conciliation court
The links below detail the work of the Appellate Courts in 2018.

Supreme Court
Court of Appeals
Clerk of the Appellate Courts
Working under the direction of the Judicial Council, the State Court Administrator's Office (SCAO) provides leadership and direction for the effective operations of the Minnesota Judicial Branch, as well as central administrative infrastructure services.

The State Court Administrator’s Office is organized into an Executive Office and six divisions:

Court Services provides leadership and technical assistance, and education and training to court staff, judges, and justice partners on a wide variety of topics, including: court administrative procedure, the Court Interpreter Program, expedited child support, the Children’s Justice Initiative, treatment courts, psychological services, jury management, self-represented litigant services, the Minnesota Court Payment Center, and research and evaluation.

Information Technology provides technical services including: development of applications, procurement and management of purchased software, network services such as e-mail and file sharing, web development and hosting, integrations with the courts’ business partners, and installation and maintenance of personal computers.

Finance manages payroll, contracts, reimbursements, budget requests, receipts, and grants, and provides financial training and guidance to Judicial Branch leadership and staff.

Human Resources and Development provides HR services and oversees all education and development efforts for judges, management, and employees.

Legal Counsel provides research, legal advice, and training for judges, court managers, and court staff.

The Court Information Office is the communications, public affairs, and media relations division of the Minnesota Judicial Branch.

Through the work of these divisions, the State Court Administrator plans for statewide Judicial Branch needs, develops and promotes statewide administrative practices and procedures, oversees the operation of statewide court programs and strategic initiatives, and serves as a liaison with other branches of government.
Minnesota Law Library Logo
The Minnesota State Law Library, which is located on the ground floor of the Minnesota Judicial Center in St. Paul, provides legal information to the courts, attorneys, self-represented litigants, and the general public on a statewide basis. The Library supports the legal research needs of the appellate and district courts, and serves as the archive for the Minnesota Judicial Branch. 

Librarians also assist attorneys and the public in finding legal materials via e-mail, phone, live chat, and in person. In 2018, Library staff answered more than 8,200 questions. Additionally, more than 2,500 people visited the Library and utilized its resources without requiring Library staff assistance. The Library’s collection includes state and federal laws, legal treatises, practice materials, and self-help materials. In addition, patrons can use public computers, current awareness materials, and online legal research resources such as Westlaw. The State Law Library also provides access to trial court and appellate court documents from its public terminals. 

The State Law Library has two free clinics for people seeking advice on appeals. The Library hosts a clinic for people seeking to appeal a denial of unemployment benefits to the Court of Appeals. In 2018, the clinic assisted 51 people with their unemployment appeals. In January 2016, the Library opened an Appeals Self-Help Clinic for most other types of appeals. During 2018, the attorney volunteers met with 181 people. 

In April 2017, the Law Library began offering legal reference service in some St. Paul Public Library branches. The response from the public has been very positive. With this service, the  State Law Library is able get into the community and reach people who don’t know about the Library, or don’t know it is open to everyone. In 2018, the librarians answered more than 700 questions at the public library.

Through a collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, the State Law Library also provides legal resources to inmates of the state prisons. The Law Library Service to Prisoners librarians meet monthly with inmates at each of the eight primary correctional facilities in  Minnesota. Most inmate requests are received and answered by mail, using the resources of the State Law Library. In 2018, the Library answered more than 39,000 requests from inmates. The program expenses are funded by inmate canteen and phone service fees, and are not paid for by Minnesota taxpayers. 

In addition, the State Law Library provides assistance and advice to county law libraries located  throughout the state. It provides training to county law library staff and regularly answers questions about collection development, budget issues, and staffing.