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Breaking the Ice: Nursing experience informs judge’s work

Todd Nelson//September 14, 2017//

Breaking the Ice: Nursing experience informs judge’s work

Todd Nelson//September 14, 2017//

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Judge Kathryn Davis Messerich
Judge Kathryn Davis Messerich

Name: Kathryn Davis Messerich

Title: Chief judge, 1st Judicial District

Education: B.S., nursing, Northern Michigan University; M.S., maternal-child nursing, University of Minnesota; J.D., William Mitchell College of Law

For Chief Judge Kathryn Davis Messerich of the First Judicial District, the path to her legal career began as she was pursuing a master’s degree in nursing.

Messerich’s idea was to combine her nursing and legal education (she completed the master’s between her first and second years of law school) to get more involved in the child protection system.

Instead Messerich, who worked as a nurse for seven years, has used her dual training presiding in juvenile court and previously in two drug courts.

“The nursing background was incredibly helpful in understanding the scientific issues and the medical issues with addiction and mental health,” Messerich said. “The law does not necessarily provide the best lens to look through but that’s what we have. That’s why I’m grateful that I was a nurse before I went to law school because it has helped me look through things with a therapeutic lens at times when appropriate.”

Messerich was appointed judge in 2004 by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and elected in 2006 and 2012.

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

A. Tell me what your concern is and tell me how you’d like to see it solved. It’s difficult to hear complaints without solutions.

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

A. It was my grad school that triggered it. But for purposes of full disclosure I do have an identical twin who is also a practicing lawyer. She went to law school right out of college and I thought the work she did was interesting.

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

A. I’m reading “The Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann. I am a voracious reader so I always have a stack of history, biography, science.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Intransigence – the inability to move or consider another person’s viewpoint because you are so aggressively pursuing your own. There’s a tendency of folks particularly in the legal profession who focus on winning rather than solving a problem.

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

A. My favorite aspect is seeing the resiliency of people who have been through tough times. I am always amazed in the human spirit and particularly the children I see in juvenile. My least favorite aspect is the fact that there are so many problems that can’t be solved by the court system alone.

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

A. I am a gardener, I play the piano, I read voraciously. In the summer I hike, in the winter I cross-country ski and daily dog walking.

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

A. I have four places that I’ve lived significant amounts of time. One is San Francisco. That’s where I was born, and I would take people to Muir Woods. No. 2 is Honolulu, Hawaii. That’s where I spent most of my childhood. If somebody was physically fit enough I would take them to the Ko’olau mountains. And then Madison, Wisconsin, and the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. No. 4. would be Dakota County. If I were to take a visitor someplace I would take them to Lebanon Hills.

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

A. I have great admiration for retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. I think that she [got] where she got by incredible perseverance and I think she also personified the characteristic of judicial independence in her opinions. And from everything I saw she appeared to be thoughtful and not swayed by fear or favor.

Q. What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney or judge?

A. That the court system can solve every problem that comes to it. The world is gray and the authority of the district court is limited.

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