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Two Willmar attorneys appointed as new district judges

WILLMAR — Kandiyohi County Attorney Jenna Fischer and Willmar attorney Rodney Hanson were appointed as District Court judges to the Eighth Judicial District. The appointments were announced Tuesday by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Fischer will replace Kathryn N. Smith and Hanson will replace Jon Stafsholt, judges who both retired earlier this year.

Fischer, who was elected as Kandiyohi County attorney in 2010, will be chambered in Willmar.

Hanson, who has practiced civil litigation for 28 years and is a partner with Anderson, Larson, Hanson & Saunders, will be chambered at Glenwood in Pope County.

“Jennifer Fischer and Rodney Hanson have demonstrated throughout their legal careers a passion for justice, and a strong commitment to public service,” said Dayton, in a news release.

He said Fischer and Hanson have given their time and talent through volunteer efforts to improve local hospitals, their communities and the lives of young people. “The people of the Eighth Judicial District will be well-served by the character and judgment of these two thoughtful community leaders,” said Dayton.

In an interview, Fischer said serving as the Kandiyohi County attorney has been the “greatest job in the world.” She said Kandiyohi County is a “healthy and vibrant county government” and she praised the County Board for being positive and “solution-oriented.”

Fischer admitted “disbelief” was her first reaction when she got the phone call saying she had been appointed. “I’d convinced myself that somebody else would be appointed.”

She said it’s an “incredible honor” to be named a judge.

Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the county is reviewing options for filling Fischer’s unexpired term, including the possibility of tapping current staff in the County Attorney’s Office.

The County Board will have to take action on how to fill Fischer’s term, said Kleindl.

Fischer applied for the judgeship position this spring after the retirements of Smith and Stafsholt were announced.

Even though her term as county attorney is not completed until next year, Fischer said she saw the retirements as a rare opportunity to become a judge in Kandiyohi County, considering that sitting judges Donald Spilseth and Michael Thompson are years away from the mandatory retirement age.

Candidates were interviewed for the two Eighth District positions in July and four finalists were named in August.

The finalists had personal interviews with Dayton.

Fischer, who met with the governor Thursday, said Dayton wanted to know more about the county’s restorative justice and circle sentencing program, which is now operated by the County Attorney’s Office.

During his interview, the governor wanted to know what kind of judge Hanson would be.

Hanson said hopes to emulate judges he has worked with over the years that respect all the parties and the process in a legal case.

He said the “exhilaration of a new challenge and a new experience” attracted him to the job.

Hanson said having a “major career shift” at the age of 53 is thrilling, but said he will miss his mentors, colleagues and other staff at the Willmar law firm where he’s a partner. He will also miss “solving problems” for his clients.

Hanson was a finalist for a judgeship last year. Not getting the job then helped him realize how “lucky and blessed” he was for having a great practice in Willmar and said he was “eerily calm” while waiting for the call this week from the governor’s office.

He said he will commute from Willmar to Glenwood at least for the first year on the job.

It’s not known exactly when Hanson and Fischer will assume their new duties.

Hanson said it would take him at least two months to tie up loose ends in his private business.

Fischer will have to spend several months serving as a judge in another county until cases she has initiated here as county attorney have moved through the system in order to avoid a conflict of interest.

Hanson and Fischer were notified Monday about their appointments but were required to keep the news confidential.

Minnesota’s Eighth Judicial District consists of Big Stone, Chippewa, Grant, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Meeker, Pope, Renville, Stevens, Swift, Traverse, Wilkin and Yellow Medicine counties.

Past experience:

Prior to being elected as the Kandiyohi County attorney, Jenna Fischer was a partner at Jones & Fischer and, prior to that, served as an assistant public defender for the Eighth Judicial District. She earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State University and her law degree with honors from William Mitchell College of Law.

She also serves on the board of directors for Rice Memorial Hospital and Willmar Lakes Rotary, and is a former board member of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and past president of the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA.

Rodney Hanson is a partner with Anderson, Larson, Hanson & Saunders, where he practices primarily in civil litigation. He has maintained a local practice in Willmar since 1985 and is a qualified neutral arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association.

He earned his bachelor’s degree with honors from Concordia College and his law degree from the William Mitchell College of Law.

He is a board member of the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA and a past president and board member of the United Way of West Central Minnesota.

Fischer and Hanson both live in Willmar with their families.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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