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Matthew Opat sworn in as Third District Judge

By Mitchell Walbridge

Fri, Jul 5th, 2013
Posted in All Government

Senior Judge Robert R. Benson conducts the oath of office to incoming Third District Judge Matthew J. Opat as other judicial officers witness the moment. Photo by Mitchell Walbridge

The well known Potter Auditorium in Chatfield, Minn., which is now the foundation for the Chatfield Center for the Arts, served briefly as the Fillmore County Courthouse on Friday, June 28 as Matthew J. Opat was sworn in as Fillmore County’s judge for the Third Judicial District of the State of Minnesota.

Nineteen Minnesota district judges (both current and senior), a number of dignitaries, court administration staff, and family members and friends of the inductee gathered for this very special ceremony that concluded by formally recognizing Opat as a judicial officer for the Third Court District of the State. Minnesota’s Third Judicial District covers much of the southeastern portion of the state, including Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, and Winona counties.

Chief District Judge Jeffrey Thompson, who replaced Judge Robert Benson following his retirement in March of 2013, opened the program, setting a congratulatory tone for the event. Assistant Chief Judge Robert Birnbaum also presented a gift from the district judges. “Over the years, there’s probably no secret about it. It’s a gavel… and I’ve found that over the years, I really don’t use one.” Jokes aside, Birnbaum went on to explain that the gavel is a symbol of the judicial office, and of the responsibilities and power that go along with it.

Senior Judge Robert Benson had the honors of swearing in his successor, Matthew Opat, during the ceremony with the oath of office. With his wife Therese at his side, Opat accepted the duties bestowed upon him.

Opat then went on to give his address to the audience, thanking everyone for their support, describing the judicial selection process and keeping true to his sense of humor. Ultimately chosen by Governor Mark Dayton, Opat first had to make it through rounds of applications and interviews with both the judicial selection committee and the governor.

But Opat rightfully has earned the position after practicing law for the past 35 years. Opat received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Iowa and his Juris Doctor degree from the Hamline University School of Law. During his career Opat has followed in the footsteps of Judge Benson, first working with Benson as first assistant county attorney, and then taking Benson’s position as county attorney before opening his own practice in Chatfield. Now Opat takes over the position of Fillmore County judge.

In his judicial selection statement Governor Dayton said, “Matthew Opat has been an exemplary public servant throughout his career. I believe that his experience and passion for the law will help him to honorably serve the people of the Third District.” And an exemplary public servant Opat has been, especially in town of residence, Chatfield, where he has served on the Chatfield Center for the Arts Advisory Committee, the Chatfield Lions, the Chatfield Commercial Club, and the Chatfield Fire Department.

A reception followed the ceremony to continue the celebration. Judge Opat will officially begin his new role at the Fillmore County Courthouse in Preston, Minn. in July. To watch the induction ceremony in its entirety, visit

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