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Eighth District Court Judge Spilseth announces retirement

WILLMAR — After more than 24 years serving as an Eighth District Court judge, Donald Spilseth, of Willmar, has announced his retirement.

In a letter he is sending today to Gov. Mark Dayton, Spilseth said it has "been a pleasure to serve the State of Minnesota as a District Court Judge" but that the "time has come to close this chapter of my career."

His retirement is effective Oct. 6.

"It was a little hard to write that letter," Spilseth said in an interview Wednesday. "Twenty-four years is a long time ... It becomes part of your persona."

Spilseth, 65, began his tenure as a trial judge July 15, 1993, when he was appointed by Gov. Arne Carlson to fill a post in Benson, where he served as judge for two years.

He was then appointed to the District Court in Willmar following the retirement of Judge Allan Buchanan.

Spilseth ran for election four times — all without opposition — including his last election in 2012.

Judges are elected to six-year terms. His current term expires in January of 2019.

He said the high point of being a judge was working with peers in a leadership position while serving as chief judge and being on the judicial council for four years.

The low point, he said, was when he took the controversial step of sending Angel Hernandez to college instead of prison.

Back in 2000, Hernandez was found guilty of gang-related crimes and Spilseth handed down the alternative sentence, much to the displeasure of the Kandiyohi County Attorney's office and local law enforcement.

"I got beat up about Angel Hernandez," Spilseth said. "That was a challenging time."

As a judge, he said it's important to be confident you're "doing the right thing." But he said that can be difficult when decisions are publicly challenged.

In the end, Spilseth said, he believes he made the right decision in the Hernandez case.

Spilseth said he will miss being in the courtroom with colleagues and the court staff.

And he'll miss the never-a-dull-moment courtroom routine and interacting with people who come before his bench.

"It is very interesting," he said. "People do such dumb things. You did what? Really?"

Spilseth said he will continue to work a full schedule until his retirement. "I'm not backing off. I'll take every case they give me."

Spilseth said he and his wife, Pauline, who have two adult children and four grandchildren, want to spend time traveling.

He also intends to pursue work as a professional mediator in civil and family cases in the community.

A retirement party is being planned for Oct. 6.

Carolyn Lange

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

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