As this issue of THL goes to press, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has appointed Judge Gildea as an Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Plummer is a small town on Minnesota’s northwestern prairie. Named after the town’s first shopkeeper, C.A. Plummer, this town of less than 300 is known for its effusive 4th of July celebrations, and for turning 100 years old in 2004. Nearly 40 percent of its residents are of Norwegian heritage. And now Plummer has a new claim to fame, as one of its daughters was recently named to the 4th Judicial District bench.
As Judge Lorie Skjerven Gildea recalls, Plummer had no street or stop signs when she was a child. “There are street signs now,” she says, “but it will always be home to me. In a town the size of Plummer, everybody did everything, played sports, participated in school plays, joined 4-H, etc. I had a wonderful time growing up in a safe, supportive place, and I know how lucky I was.”
From Plummer, Gildea went to college at the University of Minnesota–Morris, where she studied political science and was active in student government and was a drummer in the concert band. Gildea graduated from Morris in 1983 and left Minnesota to attend law school at Georgetown University. Both Georgetown and Washington, D.C., were big changes for her. “It is the biggest law school in the world, and you could learn something from a different person every hour for three years,” Gildea says.
Gildea stayed in Washington after graduation, working for the firm of Arent Fox, one of the largest law firms in Washington, D.C. “I represented clients in courtrooms across the country in commercial litigation matters while at Arent Fox. I also had the privilege of traveling to Finland a number of times to work on matters for the firm’s Finnish clients.”
Minnesota beckoned Gildea home after her East Coast sojourn or, as she puts it: “My ‘fierce and unreasonable pride’ in my Minnesota heritage (a pride I share with Garrison Keillor) is what drew me home.” For the next 11 years, Gildea served as an associate general counsel for the University of Minnesota. One of her more notable cases involved representing the University against former men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins, in which she successfully recovered more than $800,000. Last December, Gildea began a new line of work as a prosecutor in the white-collar crime division for Hennepin County before being appointed to the bench by Gov. Pawlenty.
Gildea credits her colleagues and family for helping her to attain these successes in life. “We all have people who inspire us. I have been lucky to be guided by serious and dedicated professionals at every step of my career. These mentors inspire me. I am also inspired by my family. My parents have an amazing work ethic; they are always true to their word and they know the gift of finding pleasure in the simple things in life.”
Community involvement has been a hallmark of Gildea’s career. She served on the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission from 2001 to 2004 under Governors Jesse Ventura and Tim Pawlenty. She was a member of the YWCA of Minneapolis Board of Directors. Gildea has also been involved in the bar: “Bar activity is so important,” she says. “Lawyers can get overly focused on the culture or specialty of their firm or employer. But when you work with the bar, your horizons broaden as you meet people with different experiences, specialties, and perspectives.” Gildea has served on the MSBA’s civil litigation section’s governing council and on the diversity committee, and she currently serves on the MSBA’s council, formerly known as the executive committee, and in the Assembly.
Following her appointment, Judge Gildea was kind enough to provide answers to the following questions posed to her by THL:
THL: What are your general views on what it means to be a judge?
LG: The American judicial system is the envy of the world. I can think of no greater honor than to serve that system in the largest and most diverse county in my home state. The judges in Hennepin County play a crucial role in the success of our state and our society. One of the founders of our great state, John Ireland, observed that the creation of law by free people is the search for order in a state of liberty. As Ireland said, “Law is order in liberty; without order liberty is social chaos.” Ireland certainly got it right, for order without law is merely a definition of tyranny, where life-and-death decisions are made based upon passing whim. Law without order is merely an impotent framework of window dressing where laws can be flouted by the ruthless. The judges in Hennepin County are committed to the delicate balance of law and order, and I am honored to serve on the same bench with them.
THL: What is your view on bar involvement?
LG: My first experience with the bar association was serving on The Hennepin Lawyer Committee for the Hennepin County Bar Association, which provides a great opportunity for the writer in all of us to learn about areas of law in which we do not practice. It is very important for all lawyers to make time to serve the profession in some capacity through the bar association. This service provides an opportunity for plaintiff’s lawyers and defense counsel, for large-firm lawyers and those in solo practice to come together and work collaboratively in a nonadversarial setting on important matters that are critical to our justice system, such as access to legal services. We all benefit from these interactions and this exposure. It makes us better lawyers and it makes us better people.
THL: Has progress been made in advancing women in the legal profession?
LG: We have seen many changes in our lifetime. The legal profession continues to evolve for women litigators, negotiators, and judges. I was in one of the first Georgetown classes that had a large number of women. Now, women make up at least half, if not more, of the students in our law schools. There are opportunities for any lawyer who can bring integrity, diligence, persistence, and curiosity to her work. But like any lawyer, you keep earning your keep and building your credibility with every case.
THL: Anything else you’d like the bar membership to know about you, and your expectations in the courtroom?
LG: I hope that the architecture and art of the law will guide trial practice in my courtroom. The architecture of law should help to ensure the fairness of the process, and the art of law generally brings the truth to light. You can’t have Perry Mason moments every few weeks, but you can bring articulation and a vision to almost every case. Most importantly, I expect counsel to be on time and to be prepared.
As for me, I am a die-hard Gophers sports fan. When Governor Pawlenty announced my appointment, he joked that my avid support for Gopher women’s hockey was a decisive factor in his choice. Away from the courthouse, I am very charitably described as an enthusiastic competitor in the Western equestrian sport of reining.
1986: J.D., Georgetown University Law Center
1983: B.A., University of Minnesota
2004: Assistant County Attorney, Complex Crimes Unit, Hennepin County Attorney’s Office
1993: Associate General Counsel, University of Minnesota
1993: Special Prosecutor Minneapolis City and Hennepin County Attorney’s Offices
1986: Associate, Litigation Group, Arent Fox, Washington, D.C.