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Fischer ends county job, officially begins as district judge today

WILLMAR — By the time Jenna Fischer officially handed in her letter of resignation Tuesday as Kandiyohi County Attorney, her downtown Willmar office was already cleaned out and she was getting ready to start her new job as judge today.

Fischer, who was elected to the county attorney post in 2010 and had a year left of her term, was appointed last month as a District Court judge.

She will be sworn in at 3 p.m. Friday at the Kandiyohi County Courthouse, but she begins work already today, sitting in chambers and getting familiar with basic duties. Like other new judges appointed this fall, Fischer will undergo training next spring.

In the meantime she said she will “make some mistakes” as she learns the ropes sitting on the other side of the bench in the courtroom.

She said training is intentionally delayed so that new judges have a few months of experience under their belts to acquire real-life questions to ask.

If judges attended classes at the beginning of a tenure, they “wouldn’t know what they didn’t know,” Fischer said.

Fischer will eventually be seated in Kandiyohi County, but for the first six months she will split her time between Meeker County and Swift County. That will allow time for cases that she initiated as Kandiyohi County attorney to clear the court calendar to prevent a conflict of interest.

During farewell comments Tuesday to the County Board, Fisher thanked the public for “trusting me with the duties of this office” and said being the county attorney was a “great opportunity” and a “wonderful job.”

She praised the commissioners for operating a well-run, “functional” county and for striving to do what’s best for the county. “You hire smart people and you listen to them when they give you advice,” she said.

“I’m amazed at how bright and how brilliant everyone is who works for this county,” said Fischer, adding that department heads care deeply about their work and “are the best in their field.”

She summarized some of the changes she made in the last three years as county attorney, including taking over the restorative justice program, putting sexual offenders behind bars, successfully convicting two men of murder and working with other departments to improve safety and services for the county.

“We’ve done some phenomenal work in the county in the last three years,” said Fischer.

She said she also implemented a “major change of leadership style” that she said shifted from a “top down” system in the past to a team of attorneys that make decisions together on issues like assigning cases, while holding common core values tight of serving the people of the county.

Fischer said she’s leaving the office in the “capable hands” of six assistant county attorneys.

Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl said three of the six attorneys have applied for the job of assuming the remaining term of county attorney.

A seven-member panel made up of Kleindl, two county commissioners, and four department heads will interview the candidates on Oct. 8.

The County Board is expected to appoint a new county attorney on Oct. 15.

Whoever is appointed will have the option to run for election for a four-year term in November of next year. In the meantime, Assistant County Attorney John Kallestad is serving as the acting county attorney until a replacement is named.

Because district court judges are also elected, Fischer will have her name on the ballot next November as she faces her first election as a judge.

Carolyn Lange

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

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