Justice flows from rivertown experiences: Former Red Wing resident named judge
Gov. Mark Dayton recently appointed Senior Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Todd Fellman a judge in the Minnesota Fourth Judicial District.
"I am pretty excited and pretty overwhelmed. I had hoped for it, but not expected it." said Fellman, who has worked in the county attorney's office since June 1992.
Fellman will be sworn in during a private ceremony Friday, Jan. 18, with a formal, public ceremony held later in the spring.
A 1986 graduate of Red Wing High School, Fellman said the appointment was a two-year process. He filed an application, sat for an interview with the judicial commission, and finally interviewed with the governor.
Before filing, he discussed the possibility of becoming a judge with colleagues who had made the transition. They encouraged him to apply, and he believed that fit well with his career goals. Because the process is public knowledge, he said it felt a little risky.
"I've got a 13-year-old daughter," Fellman said, "and my wife and I try to encourage her to take chances and try to do things that might not succeed. This was something that I could hopefully model for her and try to encourage her to take chances."
Fellman grew up in Red Wing and lived here until he left for college.
"I have incredibly fond memories of growing up in Red Wing," Fellman said. "Living in a river town with all the opportunities for outdoor experiences and having really strong civic and community spirit, were experiences that were incredibly formative."
He said two people here were especially important in helping him grow. The first was seventh-grade teacher Curt Gruhl, who taught him two lessons — people are responsible for their own actions, and hard work pays off.
"I tended to follow of those mottos," Fellman said, "and they have helped me both in my career and in my personal life."
The other person who helped him was Bruce Ause, director of the Environmental Learning Center which taught him to "have a true love for the outdoors and nature." Fellman credited the community and Red Wing Shoes for supporting the program that gives students the opportunity to do things like spelunking, kayaking, winter camping and more.
"Bruce took a group of rowdy, talkative, overenergized kids and rallied us to become young, mature men and women, to become adults earlier in life," Fellman said. "Teenagers sometimes have the ability to stray and not do the things that are best, and I was one of those. I think Curt Gruhl and Bruce Ause were people who took that extra time with young people and really helped us out."
Minnesota is divided into different judicial districts. Some cover multiple counties, but two are matched to single counties. The Fourth Judicial District, where Fellman will serve, is Hennepin County.
Hennepin County has a training program for new judges which includes a six-week orientation program and then a progression of working through different types of cases.
"Typically your first assignment would be presiding over misdemeanor cases for a period of time," Fellman said. "Then you move on to a general criminal trial block and then you can be assigned to one of the specialty courts like probate, juvenile, family, or mental health court."
Having worked with child protection and child abuse cases for 25 years has given him a clear perspective on the importance of helping children.
"It is so important for adults to take time and just listen to kids," Fellman said, "and for those people who are in influential capacities such as school teachers or environmental learning center directors to dedicate their time and energies, because it can make a huge impact for children."