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Transition to the Bench

by Judge Michael K. Browne

Judge Michael K. Browne was appointed to the fourth judicial district bench on September 4, 2015. Here he answers some questions from the MSBA about his experiences so far.

1.      Why did you want to be a judge?
 
Judge Michael K BrowneFrom a young age, my grandparents instilled in me the importance of hard work, public service and the desire to help people.  While I loved being a lawyer, my interest in being a judge was influenced by my professional experience in the civil rights field, coupled with my experience living on the north side of Minneapolis for almost 15 years.  Ultimately, I wanted to be a judge to help people because I believe the courts can improve people’s lives and empower others to move towards positive change by meeting their need to be heard, to be treated fairly, and to be treated with respect.  It is truly an honor to be part of this system and I am dedicated to working hard to honor the trust that has been placed in me.
 
2.      What have you found the most challenging part of the job so far?
 
For me, the most challenging part of the job is learning how my values translate into action that can be anticipated by the attorneys and those individuals making appearances before me.  In this regard, the judicial selection process was a huge value because it required me to articulate how those values fit with the way I will serve as a judge.  It led me to develop my judicial philosophy, which is grounded by three main pillars:  compassion from the bench, fidelity to the rule of law, and treating individuals with respect with authentic listening.  Ultimately, it is my hope that the values embodied in my judicial philosophy aid in building the community’s trust and confidence in the court system.
 
3.      What are the biggest differences between what you thought being a judge would be like when you were an attorney and what it actually involves day-to-day?
 
I originally thought that I would be able to spend more time developing relationships with the parties on the cases leading up to a criminal trial. I have to learn that there is a practical need to balance the personal touch (i.e., the relationship) with the need to move cases along (i.e., judicial efficiency).
 
4.      What advice would you give to attorneys who appear in front of you in district court? [a practical takeaway for members]
 
Remember that the role of the litigating attorney includes being an “officer of the court,” and there are many facets to this role.  It is an excellent opportunity to model professionalism by: being willing to educate those in the system, including the Court; being a proponent of judicial efficiency; and fostering change.   Ultimately, it is important to continue to grow as an attorney at all stages of experience. The best way to do so is to be present. Do your very best to take notice of the experiences that are happening around you as they are happening.  If you are able to do that, I suspect you will enjoy those experiences to an even greater degree, and will gain more from those opportunities.
 
5.      What are the most pressing needs that you see as a judge, i.e. (interpreters, self-represented litigants, right to counsel in certain cases, etc.)?
 
For me, the most pressing need as a new judge is creating personal connections with those who have become disenfranchised or are involuntary users of the court system.  It is my opinion that in order for the court system to continue to have the ability to impact the lives of everyone it touches, people must feel that the proceedings are legitimate and the individual is valued.  For my part, I want to engage court users, have a presence, proactively work to improve court processes and embed principles of procedural justice.  This will create a climate that will tolerate more of a focus on equity work and create public trust in the bench.
 
6.      What are you looking forward to in your new position?
 
I am looking forward to expanding eCourt technology to unrepresented parties. The program of replacing paper-based court files with electronic information needs to reach the low income, self-represented litigants, and mobile community that is accessing the internet primarily on smart phones and wants electronic information on-demand.  This is part of the digital divide that is creating a disadvantage to those unaware of eCourt technology or unable to afford it.  
 
7.      What kind of training do new judges receive?
 
As a new judge, we receive a very robust training for our first six weeks.  The training occurs in a classroom setting with experts both in the courts and our justice partners, in the court room, and with one-to-one mentoring with experienced judges. Beside all of the substantive law that you would expect, the training is also focused on some of the other skills judges’ need, such as understanding procedural fairness, how to maintain and improve public trust and confidence of the courts and how to manage the courtroom and the chambers. The training was a great way to not only learn about the way the courts run, but also create a comradery with my colleagues.