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Home / Minnesota Legal News / Legal News / Judicial Elections 2012 / 4th Judicial District, Seat 44: Berris v. Conroy
Coverage of Minnesota judicial election candidates Marc Berris and Lois Conroy.

4th Judicial District, Seat 44: Berris v. Conroy

Marc Berris

MARC BERRIS

Date of Birth: October 1, 1968

Education: William Mitchell College of Law, J.D. cum laude, 1994; University of Minnesota, B.A., sociology, 1991

Employment: Segal, Roston & Berris, PLLP, attorney; Conciliation Court referee, Hennepin County Conciliation Court; Deputy sheriff (part-time), Meeker County Sheriff’s Office; Adjunct instructor, Hennepin Technical College

Professional Associations: Minnesota State Bar Association; Hennepin County Bar Association, former co-chair of the Criminal Law Section; Douglas K. Amdahl Inn of Court; Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice; Fourth District Ethics Committee

Community Activities: Golden Valley Fire Department, on-call firefighter, 2009-present; Lionsgate Academy, (a public charter school for children with autism), board member, volunteer and guest lecturer, 2010-present; New Hope Human Rights Commission, commissioner, 2006-2010; Mosaic Youth Center, board member,  2007-2008; Minnesota State High School Mock Trial Competition, coach and mock trial judge, 1995-present. I have also volunteered in a variety of capacities for Children’s Hospitals & Clinics, Armstrong-Cooper Youth Hockey Association, and Robbinsdale Area Schools – Independent School District 281, in numerous autism-related endeavors, and in many other ways

Interests: Hockey (playing and watching), reading, bicycling, and anything of interest to my children

Family: Married to Julie, two sons: Tanner, 16, and Noah, 14

Website: marcberris.org

Why do you want to become a judge?

Being a lawyer has been my career plan since the age of 12 when I finally realized that I would never fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a professional baseball player. Becoming a judge, however, was never part of my plan. That changed almost ten years ago when I began serving as a Hennepin County Conciliation Court Referee. I found that although I enjoy being an advocate, I much prefer the role of arbiter. I like hearing evidence from both sides, resolving credibility disputes, synthesizing the facts with the applicable law, and then reaching a decision that is fair and just, and free of bias, passion, or prejudice. Not only do I find the role extremely rewarding, I have found that, as confirmed by a 2005 court study, I am very good at it.

I have spent my adult life serving the public both in and out of legal circles. As a judge, I will continue to serve the public but in a role that ensures justice, equity, and fairness and at the same time requires justice, equity, and fairness. The role is my passion and my calling.

What is the most important personal quality in a judge?

Many personal qualities are important, and arguably necessary, but none more than the trait of integrity. Integrity requires the ability to know — or to discover —what is “right” when clarity is obfuscated by challenge. Judges always must strive to do the right thing in the face of challenge: the challenges and pressures associated with the sheer volume of cases, the relative magnitude of certain cases, the pressures brought to bear by parties interested in the outcome of a particular case (or issue) or categories of cases, and the reality that judges make decisions that may be unpopular but nevertheless are required by law. I have always prided myself on being a person who values his own integrity above all else, and I will continue to do so as a Hennepin County judge.

Why should voters select you rather than your opponent?

There are several reasons why I am the better candidate. The first is the depth and breadth of my experience in the justice system. For more than 18 years I have been a courtroom lawyer, representing individuals and small businesses in a wide variety of both civil and criminal matters. Over the years the focus of my practice has been on the defense of the accused, and I appear in the trial courts on a daily basis. I have been repeatedly named a “SuperLawyer” by local publications, but more importantly than that, I take great pride in having provided exceptional representation to thousands of clients over the course of my career to date.

I also serve as a deputy sheriff. I experience firsthand those very situations trial court judges are called upon to evaluate after-the-fact. Whether evaluating a search warrant for the requisite probable cause or determining if the officer had a legitimate basis to expand the scope of a stop, my street patrol experience will help guide my determination of whether the officer’s actions have met the legal standard or if the officer’s conduct missed the mark. This perspective and experience is unique and makes me particularly well-suited to the role of trial court judge.

The second reason why voters should cast their vote for me is the fact that while lawyers in small and medium sized firms are the majority of the lawyers who regularly appear in the trial courts, they are also a category of practitioners who are grossly underrepresented on the trial court bench. Just as any team is stronger than the mere sum of its parts, the Hennepin County bench needs judges who bring a variety of experience and perspective to the court. I know what it is like to represent actual people, and I will bring that experience with me to the court.

The third reason is that I have nearly a decade of experience serving in an adjudicatory capacity as both a Hennepin County Conciliation Court Referee and as an Administrative Hearing Officer for three Hennepin County cities. While the cases in conciliation court are sometimes less complex than those in the district court, the courtroom dynamics nevertheless are the same. Integrity is mission-critical. Caseloads must be managed. Parties must be allowed an opportunity to be heard, and — win or lose — not only need to be treated fairly, but also must believe they were treated fairly. These dynamics likewise are the same in the administrative hearing arena. I have served with distinction in the Hennepin County Conciliation Court and as an Administrative Hearing Officer, and I will do so as a district court judge.

The last significant reason is my life experience outside of the legal system. I have made a conscious effort to involve myself in significant endeavors outside of the legal system. The best example of this is my service to my community as an on-call firefighter. The 49 other firefighters with whom I serve come from all facets of the community. This exposure to so many people with so many different backgrounds, experiences, and opinions has allowed me to broaden my horizons for the better. Having significant ties to and involvement in the community at large makes for a better judge.

What experience have you had in dealing with the court on which you wish to sit?

For the past 18 years I have been a trial lawyer, representing individuals in a wide variety of matters. Being in court nearly every day has allowed me to see firsthand the importance of our judges being well-prepared, patient, fair, and courteous to all who appear. When a judge fails to do so, the public rightfully loses confidence in the entire judicial system. I have never lost sight of this when serving as a Hennepin County Conciliation Court Referee, and it is something I will continue to ensure occurs in my courtroom as a trial court judge.

Other than financial resources, what are the major issues facing the court on which you sit or wish to sit?

The greatest challenge facing the Hennepin County District Court is the need to balance the enormous number of cases — roughly 800,000 each year — with the critical requirement to provide fair and respectful treatment to every party, witness, and victim. As stated above, a court which lacks fairness and respect erodes public confidence in our justice system.

The courts also are challenged by the recognition that an increasing number of litigants suffer from chemical dependency and mental illness, and it is the product of chemical dependency and mental illness which propelled the litigant into the justice system. Effectively addressing these complex matters requires more attention and resources, and has the potential to tax an already overburdened court system.

How can those issues be realistically addressed?

Solving the first issue requires nothing more than selecting judges who have the temperament and life experience needed to manage a large calendar yet leave no litigant feeling as though their case is unimportant. This can be accomplished by selecting judges who have a proven track record of serving the public, which I have.

The second issue is something that the Hennepin County District Court has already done a fantastic job of addressing through the creation of several problem-solving courts. The Hennepin County Drug Court serves as a model for the nation on treating defendants whose criminal behavior stems from substance addiction. By concentrating resources dedicated to addressing the addiction, the Drug Court has reduced recidivism. This model has been extended to the Criminal Mental Health Court, DWI Court and Veterans Court, all with tremendous success. By continuing to focus on the underlying causes of criminal conduct, courts can reduce recidivism and ultimately reduce the number of cases which it must litigate.

What can the court do to address its funding deficit?

This is a slippery slope and there is no simple answer. The courts have taken steps to reduce spending, but sadly there have been collateral consequences. For example, court staff (aside from those in specific courtrooms) are not available to the public on Wednesday afternoons. The resulting lower staffing levels have led to a corresponding cost savings, but unfortunately also have left members of the public, including lawyers, feeling frustrated when court business cannot be accomplished during what the public considers (and therefore expects) to be ordinary business hours. I know that this staffing decision was made during a difficult financial period and was not one made lightly. I hope and trust that future decisions addressing the lack of adequate funding will be made after very careful analysis and with feedback from the public.

The decision to shift to an electronic filing system will allow the courts to become more efficient. This efficiency should translate into cost savings which may help in the overall scheme of reducing the funding deficit.

Do you have any suggestions/ideas about the day to day operation of the court?

As someone who is chiefly a criminal practitioner, the cases which I handle are deemed “high priority” by the courts, and rightfully so because of the public safety implications of delay. In Hennepin County cases are almost never delayed to the degree that they are in some other metro area courts. Many of the civil attorneys with whom I have spoken, however, report substantial delays in being able to get their clients’ matters before a judge. I firmly believe that “justice delayed is justice denied,” and the courts must find a way to allow all litigants — civil and criminal — to have their “day in court” on as timely a basis as possible. Again, this is a complex problem with no simple answers.

What should the court do to promote public trust and confidence in the judiciary?

As stated above, it is a significant challenge to balance the volume of cases with the need to treat all litigants, their lawyers and other involved parties with both fairness and respect. Without this, however, the public will have neither trust nor have confidence in their courts. I believe that current confidence in our legal system is high due to the efforts of those judges now serving and those judges who served before them.

What else would you like voters to know about your candidacy?

For all of my life I have worked hard to serve others, whether this means getting out of bed at 2 a.m. to respond to a fire call in my community, serving on the board of a charter school for students with autism, coaching a high school mock trial team, or meeting with new parents of critically ill children to share my own experiences as the parent of a “preemie.” I never refuse to help where help is needed, and I have always been willing to share my particular skills whenever possible. I do so to set an example for my sons, but more than that, I do it because it is the right thing to do.

I have a unique and varied background — both personally and professionally — and will bring that experience with me to the Hennepin County Court. I ask for your vote Nov. 6.

Lois Conroy

LOIS CONROY

Date of Birth: August 4, 1971

Education: University of Minnesota Law School, J.D., 1994-1997; Georgetown University 1993, Engelcliff Scholar; University of Minnesota, Morris, B.A., 1990-1994

Employment: Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, 1995 – present: Assistant City Attorney II, 2005 – present;  Assistant City Attorney I 1998 – 2005; Criminal Division Law Clerk, 1996 – 1997; Civil Division Law Clerk, 1995-1997; Minnesota Justice Foundation Intern, 1995; Cross-deputized as an Assistant Hennepin County Attorney, 2007 – 2009, 1999 – 2001.

Professional Associations: Minnesota State Bar Association; Hennepin County Bar Association; Suburban Prosecutors Association; Minnesota Women Lawyers

Community Activities: Downtown Improvement District SafeZone Advisory Committee, Minneapolis Kids – City-wide Parent Advisory Council, Hale Elementary School Site Council

Interests: Youth sports, biking, skiing, yoga, piano, volunteer work

Family: Husband, Martin Conroy; 7-year-old twin sons

Website: loisconroyforjudge.com

Why do you want to become a judge?

I wish to be a Hennepin County District Court Judge so that I can be what I want each time I step through the courtroom doors—A judge that is: balanced, listens openly and carefully, treats all persons with dignity and respect, is hardworking, is prepared, knows the law and is willing to rule from the bench whenever possible. In my experience, this is what the best judges in Hennepin County District Court do each day. I wish to be a part of this excellence.

What is the most important personal quality in a judge?

Integrity.

Why should voters select you rather than your opponent?

Diverse litigation experience, solid academic credentials and awards-winning legal work are my primary qualifications. See the highlights below:

• Extensive prosecution experience (felonies, gross misdemeanors and misdemeanor crimes) since 1998.

• Cross-deputized by Hennepin County Attorneys Amy Klobuchar and Mike Freeman on dozens of cases including: domestic assaults, drug crimes and criminal sexual conduct.

• National and international awards for my prosecution work from the International Chiefs of Police in 2009, the Association of Prosecution Attorneys in 2011 and the International Downtown Association in 2012.

• A landmark animal abuse trial.

• One of the youngest attorneys to be promoted as a senior attorney (Attorney II) at the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office in 2005.

• Appellate experience in the Minnesota Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

• Complex litigation experience (expert witnesses and forensic analysis.)

• Recipient of the Minneapolis Police Chief’s Award of Merit for chronic offender prosecution in 1998.

• Lifelong educator that includes a national faculty member for Association of Prosecution Attorneys and former adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School.

What experience have you had in dealing with the court on which you wish to sit?

Fourteen years ago, I was hired to represent the State of Minnesota as a prosecutor. I currently prosecute cases as an Attorney for the City of Minneapolis. I have also prosecuted cases for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. My practice has been in front of the Hennepin County District Court for my entire career. Starting as the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, I have practiced in multiple divisions of the court. Having the opportunity to work on the general trial calendar, the domestic abuse and the top offender trial teams for the first six years in my career, I was given the opportunity eight years ago to build a community-based prosecution programs for downtown Minneapolis. The best known programs are the Downtown Court Watch and The Downtown 100. The Downtown 100 has received numerous awards for the success it has achieved in making downtown Minneapolis safer. Currently, I am assigned to the Special Prosecution Team prosecuting chronic offenders and gun crimes.

Other than financial resources, what are the major issues facing the court on which you sit or wish to sit?

The major issue facing the court is obtaining justice through fairness and impartiality. I am committed to deciding cases in this manner, and have demonstrated this as a prosecutor. My first goal has always been to obtain justice. Through my leadership, I have achieved greater fairness and impartiality by bringing together people from a broad spectrum of society to reduce crime that included: police officers, probation officers, social service providers, homeless advocates, business leaders and community members. The yardstick by which I have measured my success as a prosecutor is not by the number of convictions that I have obtained, but by the justice that I have achieved. I wanted to be a Hennepin County District Court Judge so that I can bring my commitment of fairness and justice to a position where I can improve the lives of more people.

How can those issues be realistically addressed?

By: 1) thorough preparation, 2) an open-minded manner, 3) a careful understanding of the facts; and 4) a sophisticated understanding of the rules of procedure and the applicable law.

What can the court do to address its funding deficit?

Ruling from the bench is an important tool in ensuring judicial efficiency. If a case can be decided this way, it bears less cost on the judicial system. Advanced and thorough preparation saves the state’s resources, and provides more fair and efficient outcomes for those who appear in court for their matters to be heard.

Do you have any suggestions/ideas about the day to day operation of the court?

The court has provided tremendous value to the citizens with the resources it has been given. The daily operations of the courts in Hennepin County would improve with additional resources.

What should the court do to promote public trust and confidence in the judiciary?

The judicial system in Hennepin County delivers fairness and excellence that serves the public well currently. The citizens of the 4th Judicial District feel confident and satisfied when they feel that they have been heard having their “day in court.” Greater transparency in general, promotes the general public’s trust and confidence in the courts.

What else would you like voters to know about your candidacy?

Growing up on a farm in southwestern Minnesota, I learned the values of family, community, hard work and integrity. As the first-person in my family to go to college, I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota – Morris. In 1993, I left the Midwest to attend an institute at Georgetown University and work in the United States Senate. I returned to Minnesota to attend law school.

During law school, I externed in federal court for the Honorable James Rosenbaum. After graduating cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School, I began practicing as a civil attorney in the areas of corporate and employment law.

I live in south Minneapolis with my husband of 17 years, Martin, and our twin sons, Patrick and James.

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