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Former Harmony resident appointed District Judge in Ramsey Country

Fri, Jun 28th, 2013
Posted in Harmony Court

Shawn Bartsh was born on a farm outside of Dover, Minn. She graduated from Harmony High School in 1972, attended Luther College, and then went on to law school at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. She remained in St. Paul, opening her own law firm in 1993.

It was while in college at Luther that Bartsh decided to study law. “I was working at the capital, and working for a lawyer, and it really interested me,” shared Bartsh.

Since becoming a lawyer in 1982, Bartsh has worked with personal injury law, as well as arbitration and mediation. She was also a conciliation court referee for 20 years. She worked with people on personal injury, juvenile, and other civil cases.

Recently, Bartsh was personally chosen by Governor Mark Dayton to be appointed 2nd District Judge for Ramsey County. She was sworn in on June 13, and she will no longer be practicing law.

“I really enjoyed being a lawyer,” shared Bartsh. “It was very rewarding to help my clients over the years. It’s a lot of work, but it’s nice to be able to use your education to help people.”

Bartsh experienced some heart-wrenching cases of personal injury and wrongful death, but she was able to help out a lot of families. She also played a big part in helping prevent further death and injuries when it comes to automatic garage door openers.

“I represented a family whose son was killed because the door didn’t reverse and it came down on him and he died,” Bartsh said. “There was also a little girl in Farmington who died the same way.”

Bartsh could imagine the horror of the parents having to live through this, and having their child die in such a tragic and preventable way. She explained the doors were designed to reverse but for a variety of reasons, it was a bad design. After the Farmington case, the family wanted to know what could be done to prevent other families from having to go through the same pain.

What struck Bartsh is that nothing had changed even though there were cases like this all over the country. “It was obviously not a freak accident,” she remarked. She began calling press conferences, and there was a lot of press and media coverage of a campaign to make electric sensors mandatory. The story was featured in Reader’s Digest, New York Times, CBS News, and various magazines.

“The technology was always there,” said Bartsh. “Most companies didn’t have them because of the cost.”

The efforts were successful, and it is now a federal law to have the electronic sensors. And the best part is that since the law went into effect, Bartsh hasn’t heard of any children dying that way.

“It’s exceedingly rewarding,” she said.

Bartsh had been thinking about becoming a judge the last few years. She has one son who is now 17, and the timing seemed right. She explained district judges have a six-year term, and if a judge retires before the term is up, another judge has to be appointed to the position.

The governor announces a vacancy and people can apply for the position. The Minnesota Judicial Selection Commission selects 10-12 to interview. Three candidates are selected from those people, and those three must have a personal interview with the governor. The governor then makes the final choice.

Being sworn in was a fun time for Bartsh, as it was very exciting. She had family and friends attend the ceremony, and the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court administered the oath.

Right now, Bartsh is doing orientation for two weeks, after which she will start doing hearings on her own. She explained District Judges do rotations, and she will be starting with the criminal rotation.

Ramsey County has 3,000 lawyers and 29 judges. It is the most diverse county in the state, and there are interpreters that can translate in 30 different languages.

“I really like the role of judge,” shared Bartsh. “I like making sure that people get fair trials, and that it’s a fair process for everyone who comes to the court. It’s a very different role, but one that I like.”

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