Laura Thomas, director of law clinics for the University of Minnesota, will fill the judgeship being vacated by the pending retirement of 4th Judicial District Chief Judge Ivy S. Bernhardson.
Gov. Tim Walz’s office announced the appointment Thursday.
“Laura Thomas is exceptionally qualified, with a deep understanding of the law and its impact on Minnesotans,” Walz said the press release. “I’m grateful for Chief Judge Bernhardson’s service to her community and wish her well in retirement.”
Thomas is a clinical law professor and director of law clinics at the University of Minnesota Law School. As a professor, she helped design Law in Practice, a lawyering skills program at the law school for which she co-authored a nationally recognized textbook and for which she teaches annually.
Through the law clinic program, she supervises and mentors student attorneys representing the indigent and working poor. In 2018, her program made its debut in the U.S. News & World Report law clinic listings, ranked 31st in the nation.
Thomas told Minnesota Lawyer that year that around 80 percent of law school students want clinical experience to build confidence and develop as lawyers. Students who stick with a clinic for two years resemble second-year associates, she said at the time.
According to her University of Minnesota bio, Thomas’ experience includes stints as law clerk to former Minnesota District Court judges Thomas Stringer and Harlan Nelson.
After that, she worked for Minneapolis products-liability defense firm Hanson, Marek, Bolkcom and Greene, Ltd. She later joined Rider Bennett, where she was a general civil litigation, insurance defense and family law attorney. In 2002, she founded a solo family law practice that she maintained until 2014.
She also served as a conciliation court referee for six years, ending in 2009. She joined the University of Minnesota Law School faculty in 2007.
“Ms. Thomas is a nationally recognized legal expert with a long history of service to Minnesotans, including our most vulnerable and under-represented,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who also is quoted in the press release announcement.
Bernhardson’s chief judge slot has already been filled by Judge Toddrick S. Barnette, who has been working as assistant chief. But until Thursday, her judgeship remained unfilled. Walz interviewed prospective replacements on Tuesday.
Bernhardson retires from the bench on June 30. Barnette, Hennepin County District Court’s first chief judge of color, takes over as chief judge the next day.