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Judge Lisa Janzen, shown in her office at the Hennepin County Government Center, previously was an assistant public defender in the 7th and 1st districts and managing attorney in the 1st District Public Defender’s Office. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)
Judge Lisa Janzen, shown in her office at the Hennepin County Government Center, previously was an assistant public defender in the 7th and 1st districts and managing attorney in the 1st District Public Defender’s Office. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: Judgeship continues focus on criminal law, public service

 Name: Lisa Janzen

Title: Judge, 4th Judicial District

Education:  B.A., international relations and Spanish, University St. Thomas; J.D., William Mitchell College of Law

Fourth Judicial District Judge Lisa Janzen sought a judicial appointment to expand her legal experience after a career in criminal defense.

There’s been one catch so far.

“I’ve just loved it, though I am still doing criminal law,” Janzen said of her work in the bench, to which she was appointed in 2016. “I am told, though, that I will be transferred about the divisions, which is just fine with me.”

Janzen previously was an assistant public defender in the 7th and 1st districts and managing attorney in the 1st District Public Defender’s Office.

“I’ve always been interested in being a public servant and [a judgeship] is a way to continue being a public servant,” Janzen said.

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

A. If anyone asks me about my kids, I could go on forever. I like to talk about my travels and like to hear about other people’s travels. I’m also a huge dog lover, so if anybody starts talking about their dogs that will break the ice because I have a dog as well.

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

A. I became a lawyer because I was interested in protecting people’s civil liberties. I was interested in constitutional rights but more than anything in giving people a voice who otherwise wouldn’t have one. Protecting people who are disadvantaged.

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

A. I’ve been in same book club for about 15 years. We just finished “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders, which was an amazing book. My favorite author is probably Louise Erdrich. I’ve read almost everything she’s written.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. People who gossip, people who are catty.

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

A. Being in a courtroom every day and dealing with interesting legal issues every day. No matter how long you practice law, just when you think you’ve seen everything something new comes up.

Q. Least favorite?

A. It’s isolating, especially when you’re used to being one of the attorneys in the courtroom. You want to try to show people you’re a real person. But that’s not your role at work anymore.

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

A. I love kayaking, hiking, paddle boarding. That’s probably where my Zen is if I can be outside in nature. Traveling of any kind anywhere. I also like to bike and do yoga and do a lot of reading.

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

A. I don’t know that there’s much to see in Bloomington except for the Mall of America, and I really try to avoid that. I grew up in Delano, a small town just to the west of the suburbs. I would show them the auto body shop that my dad owned for 45 years and then take them down the Delano city baseball field, where there is memorial plaque and bench for my dad. My brother was very involved in town team baseball, and so were my dad and my mom.

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

A. Judge Leslie Metzen; she’s recently retired. She’s always been kind of a heroine and a mentor for me professionally because I practiced in Dakota County for years. She forged quite a path for other women to be on the bench. She did it with dignity and poise and she has widespread respect from everyone.

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

A. No. 1, it’s not glamorous. It’s exhausting sitting up there all day. You want to move, stand up and move around. It’s mentally exhausting to make that many decisions all day long.

Judges work very hard. I didn’t go into this job because I thought it would be easy. But I am surprised at how hard-working all of my colleagues are.

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