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Judge Gail Kulick
Judge Gail Kulick

Breaking the Ice: Opera background the right note for judge’s career

Name: Gail Kulick

Title: Judge, 7th Judicial District

Education: B.A., classical vocal performance, Saint Cloud State University; J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School

Opera singing offered limited career opportunities but was great preparation for law school and legal practice, according to 7th Judicial District Judge Gail Kulick.

“If you can sing in front of people, talking’s nothing,” Kulick said.

Kulick, whose chambers are in Milaca, was appointed to the bench last year in the 7th District, which covers Becker, Benton, Clay, Douglas, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Otter Tail, Stearns, Todd and Wadena counties.

Kulick chose law school to gain a “marketable skill” after earning a degree in classical vocal performance.

The former state representative previously had her own legal practice and also was a commissioner of corporate affairs for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

“I’m one of the few judges I know who has been in all three branches of government because I served in the Legislature, the executive branch of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and now I’m a judge,” Kulick said.

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

A. Ask me about my recent trip to Cuba. I took my 17-year-old son. We went through a Minnesota-based organization called Global Volunteers. For two weeks he had no cell phone, no Wi-Fi and had to do physical labor and talk to his mother. We had a great time and did some very meaningful things.

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

A. I’m reading “Americanah” [by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie]. I have a book of Mary Oliver poetry and just love her stuff. I picked up Louise Erdrich’s book “The Round House” and “Flying Through Clouds” [by Michelle Morgan]. The other thing on my nightstand is a book of Sudoku puzzles.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. My pet peeve is attorneys who do not live up to the rules of decorum in my courtroom. … I’m not heavy-handed but I do maintain control of my courtroom.

Q. What are your most favorite and least favorite aspects of being an attorney or judge?

A. One of the hardest aspects is decision fatigue. I decide so many things in a day that by the end of the day, don’t ask me what I want for dinner because I don’t know and I don’t care. The best thing is having a part in changing people’s lives.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I have 17-year-old. He’s a senior in high school and is so active in band and sports. I’m taking advantage of everything because he’s the last of three, so I won’t be getting much more of that.

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

A. I would probably take them to Jiggers [in Milaca] because they have the best hamburger in town. I would show them that even though it’s a little town of 3,000 we have some delightful amenities. We have a WPA-era bandshell that was just rehabbed. … Now it’s got colored LED lighting and a concert series through the summer that’s wonderful.

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

A. I clerked for Mille Lacs County Judge Leonard Paulson. He absolutely became my friend, my mentor and my greatest role model. … He had a very gentle demeanor and was so respectful to everybody in front of him, including criminal defendants. They seemed to accept his decision even if they were going to stay in jail or were going to prison because they felt heard and they felt that they had been treated respectfully. … I try to do the same thing with the people in front of me.

Q. What is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture?

A. I’ve been TV-free for going on eight years. The one exception is Netflix. I’ve watched every episode of “Criminal Minds.” I’ve gotten hooked on “Mindhunter.” I saw “Twelve Angry Men” at the State Theatre. That is my single favorite depiction of the operation of the law especially the judicial system.

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