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Newest Eighth District judge emphasizes duty to those before court

MONTEVIDEO — Newly appointed Eighth Judicial District Judge Thomas Van Hon emphasized the importance of serving those who come before the court as he took the oath of office in an investiture ceremony Tuesday in Montevideo.

The new judge will be chambered in Montevideo. He succeeds Judge Paul Nelson, who recently retired after serving in that seat since 1997.

Judge Van Hon spoke of the variety of human experiences that come to the court: “It’s like doing important and interesting math problems while walking on a treadmill and living in a Coen brothers film. So important, so interesting, and bizarre plots, unpredictable characters, but there is the reality of people, of human beings. That’s why this job is so important.”

Judges from the Eighth Judicial District, along with colleagues from the Fifth District, filled the jury box in the Chippewa County courtroom as they joined a courtroom filled with Van Hon’s family, friends and colleagues from the judicial system in celebrating his new role.

Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Van Hon in late October. He has been serving as a judge in the district since Dec. 4.

Van Hon previously maintained a law practice in Fairfax, where he also served for 20 years on the Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop School Board. He has served as a public defender and assistant county attorney in Redwood County, part of the Fifth Judicial District.

Fifth District Judge Dave W. Peterson of Redwood Falls described Van Hon as an attorney who “without exception … has treated everybody with respect and in a fair manner.” A Montevideo native, Peterson said Van Hon brings a “very, very strong legal mind” to his new job.

Judge John R. Rodenberg, of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, also cited Van Hon’s legal skills, but noted that what he observed about him most was his “common sense and his sense of justice.”

Van Hon is a native of Johnston, Iowa, and studied mathematics and English while earning a bachelor’s of science degree in 1981 from Iowa State University in Ames. He earned a law degree and master’s degree from the University of Iowa College of Law and University of Iowa, Iowa City, in 1984.

His marriage to a native of Crosby, Minn., brought him to Minneapolis after graduation from law school. The couple moved to Fairfax shortly afterward to take a position with a law firm. He and his wife, Melanie, are parents to three grown children.

In a separate interview, Van Hon said he was both excited and “pleasantly surprised” to receive the appointment. He said he was looking for the challenge of the new position and a changed role. As a lawyer it has been his responsibility to advocate for his clients. “Judges make decisions that the judge believes in his or her own mind what is the right decision, and that appealed to me as well,” he said.

Tom Cherveny

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

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