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Chutich touts diverse law background in state supreme court bid

Justice Margaret Chutich, 60, was first appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2016 by Gov. Mark Dayton. She's now running for her seat in a contested election, boasting a diverse resume in civil and criminal law. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

It's conventional wisdom that Minnesotans are often uncomfortable talking about themselves. Chalk Justice Margaret Chutich up as "Exhibit A" in that regard.

Chutich stopped by the Dispatch Thursday, Sept. 6, to expound upon her candidacy (despite her own reluctance to toot her own horn)—a candidacy, she said, that's built on a unique foundation in both criminal and civil law, a rare breed among litigators in the state's highest judiciary echelons.

"If you look at my background, it's just perfect for being on this court," Chutich said. "We have to be generalists. We hear every dispute known to people. I think it's rare to have deep experience with both criminal and civil law, experience in administrative law."

Born and raised in Anoka to parents who owned a hardware store, Chutich, 60, graduated from Anoka Senior High School, then studied a year at Stanford University before transferring to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where she graduated in 1980. For her juris degree, she studied at the University of Michigan Law School, where she graduated in 1984.

Chutich then embarked on a career in law—first as a clerk for 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diana Murphy, then in private civil law practice for about five years.

When she joined the state attorney general's office, she shifted to criminal law and appellate work—which, she noted, helped her discover a passion that remains to this day with her work in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

"It's such a civilized environment," she said. "I just love it."

During her years at the state attorney general's office, she served in a number of roles, including prosecuting federal criminal cases, or supervising about 110 people in the law enforcement section, and then a stint in the human resources department, where she dealt with civil law once more.

"That was an experience," Chutich said. "You know, managing lawyers is kind of like herding cats. It can be done."

Then she left practicing law altogether for a spell, serving four years as an associate dean at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She was working there when Gov. Mark Dayton selected her to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 2012, thereupon she was again appointed by Dayton to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2016, where she currently serves.

"The (Minnesota) Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the Minnesota State Constitution," Chutich said. "We're protecting the rights of Minnesotans. My main role is ensuring everyone in Minnesota gets a fair shot at justice. When they come to our court I want them to be treated fairly with respect and to feel like we really understood their issues."

Whether or not she rules in their favor, Chutich said she's committed to ensuring people understand why she leaned one way or another, a personal philosophy she tries to adhere to by writing in accessible, layman terms to be best understood by the populace.