So You Want to Be a Judge? Spotlight: Hon. Maximillia Utley

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Judge Maximillia Utley was appointed to the Fourth Judicial District Bench by Gov. Tim Walz in November of 2020. Prior to becoming a judge, she was a senior assistant county attorney in Hennepin County. 

Judge-Maximillia-Utley-150What was one thing that surprised you about the application and onboarding process?

I was surprised by how public the application process is, even prior to being named a finalist. If an applicant is granted an interview with the judicial selection commission, there is a significant amount of due diligence conducted and the commission members reach out to many people in the legal field about the applicant’s reputation in the legal community, their competence and abilities as a lawyer, and their perceived fitness to join the bench. An applicant is asked to list the last five judges they have appeared before, and the last five attorneys they have litigated cases against, so I assumed those people would be contacted. However, I was surprised to hear about how many other people were contacted about my application, and some whom I had not appeared in front of (judges) or had cases against (lawyers) for years. 

What’s one piece of advice you would have for someone who wants to become a judge? 

My advice is to approach the process like any other important life decision and consider it from every angle, gathering as much information as you can about what the application process looks like, what the job entails and whether it is the right fit for you. One of the first steps to take may include getting a copy of the judicial application (even if one is not ready to apply yet) to see the information sought during the application process. Another first step may include talking with those who are already on the bench, particularly those who come from a similar background to understand the benefits and pitfalls during the transition to the bench. Finally, in determining whether being a judge is the right fit, I think an important first step is ensuring that the desire to be on the bench is rooted in a desire to serve the public. 

What’s one thing you wish you knew before you started the process?

Before starting the process, I wish I had known just how crucial it is to reach out to people who are familiar with it. Unlike most job application processes, which are private and require little input from others, the judicial application process benefits greatly from outside involvement. I found that speaking with others who had recently gone through the application process was very helpful, as was doing mock interviews with the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers and the Infinity Project. Additionally, having someone else review the completed application materials and provide input can be valuable. 

Is there anything else you wanted to mention about the process?

The judicial application process can feel arduous due to the amount of effort needed to assemble an application that is not only able to show the judicial selection commission and the governor’s office who you are, but also one that is able to stand out amongst the other applications. Because of that, it is essential that applicants can talk about the process with others who understand it. During the application process, I relied on many people who took the time to talk to me about not only applying to be a judge but also what it means to be a judge. Those conversations were instrumental to my success in the application process, and I am so appreciative of those who helped me through it.

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