New appeals court judge has Anoka roots

Anoka High School alum Margaret Chutich has been appointed to the bench of the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Retired Court of Appeals Judge Harriet S. Lansing administers the oath to Judge Margaret Chutich (left) during her Feb. 28 investiture. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Court of Appeals
Retired Court of Appeals Judge Harriet S. Lansing administers the oath to Judge Margaret Chutich (left) during her Feb. 28 investiture. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Court of Appeals

Chutich joined the court in February, after being selected by Gov. Mark Dayton in December 2011. Dayton called Chutich on Christmas Eve to let her know she had been chosen so she could enjoy the news with her family over the holidays.

Becoming a judge is the realization of a dream for Chutich, whose law career has been full of variety and public service.

“In my practice I had done a lot of appellate work and I always loved appearing at the court of appeals,” said Chutich. “This really is a dream of mine.”

She most recently spent three years as the assistant dean at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

“I enjoyed my job very much, so much in fact I wasn’t sure I wanted to apply,” said Chutich when she learned of the judicial opening. “But I missed using my legal expertise.”

Prior to her work with the Humphrey School, Chutich worked at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, including positions as deputy attorney general of the law enforcement section and assistant attorney general with the criminal and human services divisions. She also worked in the criminal division prosecuting crimes and handling criminal appeals.

In the early 1990s Chutich prosecuted violent and general crimes as an assistant United States attorney.

Before entering public service, she practiced law privately in the areas of labor law, securities fraud and antitrust class actions, employment discrimination and environmental law.

It is this variety of experience that Chutich believes made her a strong candidate to become a judge.

Chutich, along with the John R. Rodenburg were appointed to two at-large vacancies on the 19-member Minnesota Court of Appeals, following the retirements of Judge Edward Toussaint and Judge Gordon Shumaker.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals handles most of the appeals from the final decisions of trial courts, state agencies and local governments.

Chutich said it is this variety was part of what made the job attractive.

“You hear cases from every aspect of people’s lives,” said Chutich. “You get to make sure people are hard and they have had a fair shot.”


Anoka roots

Chutich grew up on Van Buren Street in Anoka, the daughter of Marlys and the late Joe Chutich. Her father was a longtime businessman in the city, owning and operating Western Auto and then Joe’s Hardware Hank.

She graduated from Anoka High School in 1975, where she was also an accomplished athlete. In her senior year, Chutich won the state tennis title. She also played varsity basketball.

She spent her freshman year at California’s Stanford University, where she was a walk-on point guard with the women’s basketball team.

Chutich then returned to finish her degree at the University of Minnesota, where she also played tennis. She said it was late in her undergraduate studies when she decided to pursue law.

“There weren’t really any lawyers in my family, so it wasn’t something I always knew I would do,” said Chutich, who had originally thought she might like to be a history teacher or a professor.

After graduating with a bachelor of arts from the U of M in 1980, she went on to graduate cum laude with a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1984.


Joining the bench

The selection process for the appeals court began last fall when Chutich applied for the opening. The Judicial Selection Commission narrowed the field to five, with the final two appointments being made by Dayton.

Chutich’s investiture – the formal judicial appointment ceremony – took place Feb. 28.

To date she has reviewed 12 cases, eight of which have been orally argued.

A team of three appeals court judges hear six cases a week. Each judge is responsible for writing two of the six opinions.

“I love to write, so that was something I really looked forward to,” she said.

Chutich said the caseload is busy, but not so busy that judges don’t have enough time to consider their decisions.

Making public, and collaborative, decisions can be a challenge, said Chutich. She also feels being on the bench could be isolating compared with the camaraderie of being on the other side as lawyer.

“You spend a lot of solitary time reading and writing,” she said.

Since joining the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Chutich has enjoyed building her team of support staff and getting to know the other judges.

“People here on the court are lovely and welcoming,” said Chutich.

Chutich lives with her family in Minneapolis and has a 12-year-old daughter.

Along with work and parenting, in her spare time Chutich still enjoys a weekly tennis game during the winter months and also likes to travel.

Chutich is a former director and current member of the Advisory Council for the Advocates for Human Rights and is a director with the YWCA of Minneapolis.

After nearly 20 years of living in Coon Rapids, Chutich’s mother has moved back to Anoka. She visits every week.

“It has been nice to get reacquainted with Anoka,” she said.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]