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Transition to the Bench

By Judge Richard H. Kyle, Jr.

The MSBA is asking new judges to answer a few questions about their experience on the bench. Here’s our first posting from former MSBA President Richard H. Kyle, Jr., who was appointed to the second judicial district bench on July 28, 2015.

  1. Why did you want to be a judge?  I’ve always loved the adversarial trial process, which is so critical to a well-functioning democratic society.  Individuals and businesses bring their disputes to court and expect the court to solve them.  So being a judge is the ultimate position for someone who loves the trial process. You get to be part of that process each day---hopefully making a difference in the lives of the people who appear before you.  I was also attracted by the endless variety of matters that come before a district court judge: criminal; family; juvenile; mental health; and civil cases. 
  2. What have you found the most challenging part of the job so far?  When I was in private practice judges always told me that sentencing criminal defendants was the most challenging part of their job.  They were right.  It is very challenging to stand in judgment of another person.  Criminal defendants are human beings, people with families and friends.  While their conduct may be at fault, I try to be as unabrasive as possible when imposing a sentence.
  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?  As a private practitioner I always thought that judges had lots of time to make thoughtful decisions and prepare well-written orders.  The reality is that district court judges handle a high volume of cases.  This places enormous pressure on judges to make decisions quickly.  We try and give each case the attention it deserves but usually wish we had more time to make our decisions.  
  4. What advice would you give to attorneys who appear in front of you in district court?  Remember that I work in a busy, county courthouse.  The time I can devote to your case is limited.  You know the facts and law better than I do.  Make your points clearly and succinctly.  Provide legal authority to support your positon.  Always be civil and professional, especially to my staff.  And don’t be afraid to ask my staff about court procedures, especially if you don’t practice regularly in Ramsey County. 
  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.)?   First, the large number of pro se litigants.  The legal system functions poorly when untrained people represent themselves in court.  Most judicial districts in the state have experienced an increase in pro se litigants in recent years.  As you might expect this is a big challenge for the court.  Second, the increasing number of litigants requiring the services of an interpreter.  The second district is a large, urban court.  Ramsey County includes the City of St. Paul, one of the most diverse communities in the state.  As a result many of the individuals that appear before me need the services of an interpreter.  It’s the responsibility of the court system to provide those services so that everyone appearing in court can understand the proceedings. 
  6. What kind of training do new judges receive?  Each judicial district is different.  In the Second (Ramsey County), new judges are assigned to the misdemeanor criminal rotation.  To prepare for that assignment I shadowed other Ramsey judges for three weeks.  I watched senior judges preside over criminal arraignments, pretrial and omnibus hearings, implied consent hearings, and court trials.  After that I began hearing cases on my own.  Fortunately, I have great colleagues in the second district who are always willing and available to answer my questions---sometimes in the middle of a court hearing! 
  7. Any surprises since taking the bench?  My email traffic is only a fraction of what it was in private practice.  That has been a pleasant surprise.
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