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Gildea sworn in as Minnesota's chief justice

New Minnesota Chief Justice Lorie Gildea smiles at the crowd Monday as former Chief Justice Russell Anderson applauds following Gildea taking the oath of office. She became Minnesota's 22nd chief justice. Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Lorie Skjerven Gildea learned at an early age how to tackle difficult situations.

Gildea, who on Monday was sworn in as the Minnesota Supreme Court's 22nd chief justice, was a young 4-H member when she took her Shetland pony, Carmel, to the Red Lake County Fair. Older 4-H members were sure she would "freeze up" and fail in the horse competition, former Minnesota Chief Justice Russell Anderson said.

It was Carmel that froze when it came time to go in front of the fair crowd, all 25 of them, but her owner persisted and persuaded the pony to enter the ring, eventually taking away championship honors.

Anderson, who as judge served the northwestern Minnesota area where Gildea was raised, said the long hours the girl spent training Carmel and her will to win is what Minnesotans can expect from the new head of the state's court system: "She is a testament to hard work and determination."

She also shows a "compassion for others," said Anderson, whom Gildea called her judicial mentor.

Anderson talked about Gildea during an hour-and-a-half ceremony in St. Paul's historic Landmark Center. Gildea took the oath to be chief justice from Justice Alan Page in front of about 600 people, mostly judges, lawyers and state officials.

Also, David Stras of suburban Wayzata took the oath to become a high court justice, replacing Gildea.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who gave Stras the oath, took the spotlight in a post-ceremony reception as audience members crowed around him for conversation and photos.

Stras was law clerk for Thomas years ago, and the U.S. justice rearranged his schedule to take part in Monday's event.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Stras, 35, and Gildea, 48, two months ago. Both promise to seek re-election when their terms expire.

Pawlenty said Gildea will be "a justice of historic stature and ability."

Gildea, a Plummer native, credited her success on her small-town upbringing.

"When you grow up in a very small town, you learn that everyone works together or nothing gets done," she said.

Like Anderson four years ago, Gildea was critical of those who want judges to make decisions based on partisan politics.

"We don't want rulings based on campaign contributions," she said.

She also said the judiciary faces a financial challenge.

"In the middle of challenge lies opportunity," she said. She gave no details about how she would deal with judicial issues as the person in charge of Minnesota courts but said the system "must be adequately funded" to preserve democracy and protect public safety.

Thomas, in saying a few words about Stras before swearing him in, called the state high court's newest justice very suited for the job.

Stras, introduced as an unusually conservative law professor at the University of Minnesota, called his new job "a limited one."

Some Democrats have criticized Pawlenty for appointing Gildea and Stras.

Gildea wrote a dissenting opinion earlier this year when the Supreme Court decided Pawlenty illegally cut spending last summer. Stras wrote a legal brief on Pawlenty's behalf in the case.

Gildea is a University of Minnesota Morris graduate (current Morris student Gretchen Retka song the national anthem to open Monday's ceremony). She has served on the state's high court since January 2006 and replaces Eric Magnuson, who announced in March that he would leave the court for personal reasons.

She has been a University of Minnesota lawyer, assistant Hennepin County attorney, a lawyer in Washington and an editor of the American Criminal Law Review.

Stras has been on the University of Minnesota Law School faculty since 2004 and was a lawyer at Faegre & Benson in the Twin Cities.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.