In a private Oct. 28 ceremony at the Governor’s Residence, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Russell A. Anderson was honored with a proclamation from Gov. Tim Walz.
“Chief Justice Anderson valued justice and fairness for all Minnesotans, never forgetting his Greater Minnesota roots and calling himself a ‘country trial judge’ even as he ascended to the state highest court,” said the proclamation declaring Oct. 28 “Russell Anderson Day.”
The event, which was attended by a large coterie of past and present Supreme Court justices, was closed to the press.
In a press release after the fact, current Chief Justice Lorie Gildea called Anderson “a mentor.”
“Chief Justice Anderson has given so much to our state,” Gildea said in the written statement. “His honor, humility and humanity continue to serve as an inspiration and guiding light for me. I thank him for his steadfast service to the Minnesota Judicial Branch and the people of Minnesota.”
Russell, a former Beltrami County attorney and 9th District Court trial judge, served on the high court from September 1998 to June 2008. He was appointed the same day that his future colleague and namesake, G. Barry Anderson, was named to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
During his last two years on the Supreme Court, Russell served as Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s appointee as chief justice.
As a trial judge, he was considered an early leader in combating domestic violence, even earning an international reputation. Twice he traveled to the former Soviet Union to help formulate new domestic abuse laws there.
As an associate Supreme Court justice, he worked closely with former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz to unify the trial and appellate courts under the newly formed Minnesota Judicial Branch. He later called that the proudest of his Supreme Court accomplishments.
He also helped develop the Judicial Council and served as its chair.
With his modest demeanor, Russell was seen as a “quiet and collaborative leader” who tended to keep his cards close to his vest. In 2005, for instance, he repeated for the Star Tribune a line he used to tell the folks back home in Beltrami County.
“When they asked me if I was a Republican or a Democrat,” Russell said, “I told them I was a Lutheran.”
He was born in Bemidji, the son of a gas station owner and stay-at-home mom. He earned a Master of Laws degree from George Washington University in 1977 and his juris doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1968. During the Vietnam War, he served on the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Now 77, Russell retired after 25 years on the bench to care for his wife, Kristin. She was among those present at the Governor’s Residence ceremony.