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Chippewa Co. Attorney off to the YM bench after governor appoints him

GRANITE FALLS -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty made Chippewa County Attorney Dwayne Knutsen his 100th judicial appointment on Thursday.

Pawlenty flew Thursday afternoon to Granite Falls to announce his selection of Knutsen to succeed retired Judge Bruce Christopherson to the trial court bench in Yellow Medicine County.

Pawlenty described the new judge as a "thoughtful, fair and diligent attorney,'' and said his legal skills came with the "temperament and personality that you would want. (Knutsen) the type of person who is balanced and fair minded,'' Pawlenty said.

The new judge was one of three finalists interviewed by the governor. Knutsen didn't learn until the governor called him on Wednesday evening that he had been appointed.

Judge Knutsen said he would work to "justify the trust and responsibility'' placed on him. The new judge also pledged that he would continue the 8th Judicial District's leadership in efficiency and cooperation. He said the district is known for its ability to move cases along while resolving them in a fair and impartial manner.

Knutsen has been an attorney with the firm of Prindle, Maaland, Sellner, Stennes, Knutsen and Stermer in Montevideo since 1986. He has served as Chippewa County Attorney since 1999. He earned his law degree from the University of Minnesota in 1985 and undergraduate degree from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion in 1973.

Partners in the Montevideo law firm, family members and others filled the courtroom in Granite Falls to witness the governor's announcement and congratulate the new judge.

Law firm partner Richard Stermer said Knutsen's appointment is a loss for the law firm and county, but a great benefit to the judicial district. "He's going to make a great judge,'' said Stermer.

Attorney Donald Maaland recruited Knutsen to the Montevideo law firm in 1986, and said his talents and understanding of the law make him well-suited to his new role. "A great appointment,'' said Maaland.

The appointment is a very important one to the 8th Judicial District, according to District Judge Donald Spilseth of Willmar. The district is one of the smallest in the state with 11 seated judges. He also pointed out that Knutsen's predecessor, Judge Christopherson, has played a leadership role in the district.

Knutsen was among the finalists when then-Meeker County Attorney Michael Thompson was appointed to the bench in Kandiyohi County in 2005.

The Commission on Judicial Selections had considered 12 applicants for the Yellow Medicine County vacancy, and had recommended to the governor for consideration Knutsen, Yellow Medicine County Attorney Keith Helgeson of Granite Falls and former Chippewa County Attorney David Gilbertson of Montevideo.

The date at which the new judge will begin his duties must yet be determined. He is making arrangements to transfer over his duties as county attorney and his private practice responsibilities.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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