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Judge Shaun Floerke is presiding judge of South St. Louis County’s DWI Court in Duluth.
Judge Shaun Floerke is presiding judge of South St. Louis County’s DWI Court in Duluth.

Breaking the Ice: No ‘magic wand’ for judges, DWI court leader says

Name: Shaun Floerke

Title: Judge, 6th Judicial District

Education: B.A., history, University of Wisconsin-Madison; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Sixth Judicial District Court Judge Shaun Floerke, presiding judge of South St. Louis County’s DWI Court in Duluth, credits its success in part to participants.

Floerke, who helped launch the DWI court in 2008, said it generally has the state’s highest treatment court graduation rate, between 86 and 90 percent.

Contributing to those results, Floerke said, is a commitment to research and best practices and the work of treatment providers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and probation officers.

The court received designation as one of four national Academy Courts by the National Center for DWI Courts and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Officials from jurisdictions considering starting DWI courts this month (9/17) will visit Duluth.

“It’s a real privilege to watch people recover their family, their health, their self-respect, their dignity, their work,” through court participation, Floerke said.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Ask me about bicycling. I’m a bike evangelist of sorts. I commute by bike year round here in Duluth. It’s become such a part of my life, what keeps me going and keeps me healthy.

Q. What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A. I was born to argue. My mom will tell you, my dad will tell you, the whole family will tell you. So the law seemed like a good fit.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I’m reading “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise,” by Anders Ericksson. He’s talking about training and improvement. He calls it deliberate practice.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Us vs. them. That bothers me in many contexts, primarily the criminal justice context the idea that there’s an “us” and there’s a “them.” I’m always trying to argue through that. It doesn’t take long interacting with any population in our courtrooms or in our system to realize we’re an awful lot alike.

Q. What are your most favorite and least favorite aspects of being a judge?

A. The most favorite is when we work collaboratively in the system to achieve good outcomes for people, done respectfully.

One of the least favorite is when there’s no good decision. Naively I came into this job thinking all I’ve got to do is just make the right decision. But sometimes there are no good options. If you don’t feel you’re making the right decision, you feel you’re making the lesser of a couple of bad choices. They don’t give you a magic wand to fix everything.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. It’s Duluth and there will be some irony in this because Duluth has all these great breweries and great food. My kids work at the Duluth Grill and I regularly meet people at the Duluth Grill. I love Bent Paddle [Brewing Co.]. We always take people down to the Point to see the beauty of the lake.

Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most? Why?

A. I had a boss for many years in the county attorney’s office, [former St. Louis County Attorney] Al Mitchell. He’s since passed on. He was brilliant at big picture and he was brilliant at detail. He was fiercely loyal to his employees and his friends. He was a mentor and kind of a father figure.

Folks have this impression of being a judge as this ivory tower, kick-your-feet-up, smoke-your-pipe, spend-time-at-a-country-club kind of thing. That is so far off. The volume and the stress and the isolation and the grappling with people and cases and things is incredible. I’m not complaining, but it is a hard job with a lot of volume and a lot of pressure.

Q. What, if any, is your favorite depiction of the law, the legal professional in popular culture?

A. You gotta go back to Atticus Finch, right? We used to teach mock trial to kids. We’d sit them down and watch “To Kill a Mockingbird.” That’s such a beautiful portrayal.

 

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