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For the students, it's a one-on-one with the state's top legal minds

WILLMAR -- After taking a break to remove their judicial robes and clear the auditorium stage, the seven justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court gamely answered a wide range of questions posed Wednesday morning by Willmar Senior High School students.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea answered the biggest question, that of why the court was in Willmar, even before she had the justices introduce themselves to the students. "We are here, at Willmar High School, because it is the best high school in the state of Minnesota," she said, and was promptly met with cheers from the students.

The justices also visited classrooms at the high school as part of the court's visit to Willmar. As part of its efforts to educate the public, the court makes two high school visits per year, to a metro area school in the spring and an outstate school in the fall.

Here are a sample of the questions from students and the justices' answers:

What makes the members of the court qualified to serve, an inquiry from student Mitch Johnson.

Justices need to be "learned in the law" which means being a lawyer, said Justice Alan Page. Also beneficial are intellectual curiosity, willingness to work hard and the ability to lay aside their personal views.

Justice Paul Anderson encouraged students to show up, work hard at whatever they are doing and then watch for opportunities to learn new things and grow their skills and career.

"I didn't choose this job, being a judge," Anderson said. "But I did show up for a lot of opportunities."

The justices do consider difficult cases, Justice Christopher Dietzen acknowledged, answering a question about the difficulty of making the legal decisions.

The justices read, do research and study the law before an argument is heard, Dietzen said. After the argument, the justices sit around a table, discuss the case and learn from each other.

"We strive to make good decisions," he said. "It's all about following the law and the constitution."

Justice Page -- who of course was one of the Purple People Eaters, as the Minnesota Vikings' defensive line was known in the late 1960s and the 1970s -- fielded a question about how he made the transition from the National Football League to being a judge. Law came before his Hall of Fame football career, he said.

"Long before I was a football player, I had an interest in the law," he said.

The questions also addressed very current issues, like politics. Student Chaz Fenske wanted to know what the justices think of political parties endorsing judicial candidates.

"When you are a judge in Minnesota, you are not a DFL judge or a Republican judge or a Green Party judge or a lizard party judge, you are a Minnesota judge," Gildea said. "It's dangerous to pick judges based on politics."

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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