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Bibus leaves bench after 16 years

Judge Thomas W. Bibus receives a plaque from Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson during his retirement reception. (photo by John R. Russett)

When Judge Thomas W. Bibus was in fifth grade he got his first job as a janitor’s assistant.

Since that first job, in the days before OSHA, which consisted of projects the likes of sanding desks, creating clouds of dust that occasionally sent him home with a bit of a cough, he has been employed — until Thursday.

Thursday was Bibus’ last day on the job after 16 years as a judge in the First Judicial District, a position he was appointed to by former Gov. Jesse Ventura.

“We’re losing a great public servant,” said Goodhue County Court Administrator Christopher Channing at Bibus’ retirement reception Thursday afternoon at the courthouse.

The early years

After his days wielding a belt sander, he moved on to a job as grocery clerk in high school, then worked in a meat packing plant in college. After a stint working for Culligan Water, he landed his first professional — his word — job as a police officer in Burnsville in October 1970.

Bibus was admitted to Hamline Law School after seven years as a police officer and firefighter, experience he said was vital to landing his first job as a prosecutor in the Dakota County attorney’s office.

He continued to practice law in various forms until he got the call in 2000 from Gov. Jesse Ventura. He moved to Goodhue County and began his career on the bench.

Initial interest

“It seems that I always had an interest in it since I was a boy,” Bibus said of the law and justice. “I’ve always felt like I’ve wanted to help make things right, make things fair.”

Bibus said he grew up a little more quickly than most and subsequently became the guardian of his three brothers, making sure fairness was instilled on the playground.

He fell naturally into his role as a peace officer, which gave him a leg up in his law career.

“There are a number of qualities that are necessary for the bench and the number one quality, of course, would be fairness,” Bibus said.

Lasting legacy

“People,” Bibus said. “I do find after all my career, I still love people, I’m still interested in people. I find — perhaps even more — I’m empathizing with people and it’s a daily joy to have all of the problems and turmoil surrounding people’s lives come into the courtroom and in that setting, sometimes do a really good resolution.”

Both sides might not be happy with the resolution, which is usually a good sign that you’re on the right track, Bibus added.

The most important work throughout his career, he said, relates to children.

“In a sense, that’s another way of describing my most rewarding experiences, is to have come full circle,” he said. “I’m 68 years old, and to gather in that experience where you really see the whole picture of human beings and our entire community. It helps you to love deeper and better and it helps you to embrace peace and to try to stop cycles of violence that every community has.”

Future plans

“I have no special plans,” Bibus said. “I was ready, this was the time for me.”

There will be some traveling with his wife, Kathleen, who recently retired as director of Midwest Migrant Education Resource Center in the School of Education for Hamline University after 23 years, and more time with the grandkids. Bibus said they plan to remain in the community.

The staff, he said, will probably be missed the most.

“I’ve been helped enormously by my staff over the years,” he said. “I’ll miss them on a daily basis.”

At the end of his speech Thursday afternoon, Bibus received a standing ovation by the crowd, which left little empty space in the jury assembly room.

Douglas Bayley, who was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to replace Bibus’ vacancy, will be sworn in July 20.

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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