Announcing Ivy Bernhardson’s appointment to the bench, Gov. Tim Pawlenty noted that “our courts are best served by judges who bring a variety of professional experiences with them to the bench.” Judge Bernhardson brings a different kind of diversity to the bench, and her extensive experience in business and related law will no doubt prove invaluable as she settles into her role as a Hennepin County judge.
Born in Fargo, North Dakota, Bernhardson moved to Minnesota as a teenager to attend Gustavus Adolphus College, in St. Peter, MN. After graduating magna cum laude, she moved to Southern California to be with her husband, Mark, a naval officer at the time. When the two returned to Minnesota, Bernhardson attended the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating cum laude.
While Bernhardson remembers “always knowing” that she wanted to be an attorney, she spent time in college working as a tour guide for the Betty Crocker Kitchens at General Mills, Inc. But her legal career was never far from her mind in those days, so she parlayed her tour guide position into her first legal job, working as a law clerk for the corporation during law school.
Bernhardson remained with General Mills for 23 years, gaining immeasurable experience in business, corporate, and securities law. She played an instrumental role in shaping the company as we know it today, playing a role in three public-company spin-offs and the General Mills—Pillsbury merger. She served many positions with the company over the years, including associate general counsel and corporate secretary.
In 2000, Bernhardson became a shareholder with the law firm of Leonard, Street and Deinard, where she continued to grow her skills as a business lawyer. She became the first internal general counsel for the Hazelden Foundation in 2004, managing major litigation, spearheading a comprehensive legal risk assessment, upgrading the organization’s governance structure, and creating charity care policies.
One need not spend much time with Bernhardson to recognize her abiding commitment to community service. She is currently on the board of the Bush Foundation, a grantmaking organization founded by former 3M senior officer Archibald Bush and his wife, Edyth, in 1953. Among her myriad other affiliations, she has also served on the Fairview Health Services Board, the board of the Greater Twin Cities United Way, and as a trustee for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Board of Pensions. Bernhardson’s conviction in serving the community is palpable, and she looks forward to continuing her activities to the greatest extent possible while on the bench.
Bernhardson’s family also has deep roots in the Twin Cities community. Her husband is the Bloomington city manager. Her son, Andrew, a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, studies medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School. And her daughter, Jenna, a senior at Carleton College, is the 2007 Minneapolis Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes.
Bernhardson is thrilled to be a member of the Hennepin County bench and admits contemplating the position for many years before applying. While she acknowledges the challenge in the transition from being an advocate to being the decision maker, she feels that her 20-plus years of experience as a commercial arbitrator have served her well and helped prepare her for her new role. Though the learning curve is steep, she finds the judges around her to be extremely supportive and helpful. The best advice she has received from another member of the bench? “Don’t be hasty—if you don’t know the answer, take the time to find out.”
But, as Bernhardson observed early on in her judicial training, time can be one of the greatest challenges facing the Hennepin County court system today. She has discovered that the volume of cases is staggering, and protecting a defendant’s right to a speedy resolution of his or her case requires vigilance and extraordinary organization. She observes that the logistics are challenging, given the fact that there are so many moving parts in the process. Bernhardson is impressed with the machinery that keeps the court moving expeditiously ahead and looks forward to finding ways to make the process more efficient for all participants.
Since being appointed to the bench in April 2007, Bernhardson has been acutely aware of and sensitive to the human drama that unfolds in each of the criminal cases she hears. She notes that each case brings a unique human story, and that “you can’t let anything surprise you.” She explains that her experiences working with Hazelden were eye-opening, and that she is now even more cognizant of the issues underlying so many of the cases in the criminal justice system.
Armed with that experience, Bernhardson appreciates the challenges she faces in these cases and takes her responsibility to the litigants in each case to heart. She recognizes her privilege and familiarity with the legal process and is particularly sensitive to the fact that those she comes into contact with may not be similarly situated. She stresses the need for all participants in the process to communicate effectively and respectfully. She strives to preserve the dignity of the proceedings; courtesy is the order of the day in Bernhardson’s courtroom.
To be a successful judge, Bernhardson will work to earn and maintain the respect of the people working for the court, those appearing in court, and her colleagues on the bench. She places special emphasis on “the need for litigants to be heard, and for the bench to provide a fair and equitable forum” for all litigants. She enjoys her teaching role on the bench and makes every effort to ensure that those appearing before her understand the proceedings.
Bernhardson offers the following advice to attorneys appearing in her courtroom: she is not particularly impressed by aggrandizement and she expects attorneys to fairly represent the facts and their clients’ positions. She appreciates a straightforward approach and insists that members of the bar be fair with their clients and fair with each other. She values the dominating “culture of respect within the Minnesota legal community” and seeks to foster that culture within her courtroom.
When not on the bench or busy with her family and community service activities, you may find Bernhardson lending her sweet soprano stylings to her church choir and the Minnesota Chorale—the Minnesota Orchestra’s principal chorus. She is also an avid runner who is dedicated to her health. With her experience and dedication to bettering herself and the legal community, Judge Bernhardson hits the right note as a member of the Hennepin County bench.