Back in the early spring days of 1974, JoAnn Bennett applied for a job with Anoka County District Court. She also applied for a job in downtown Minneapolis and when she got the call from Anoka County, she thought, “I’ll go ahead and take a shot at that.”
Well, it seems to have been a pretty good shot because Bennett has been on the job for nigh on 40 years, advancing through the court system until ultimately working as chief deputy court administrator.
Bennett officially and finally retired from that position, clocking out at high noon Friday, Dec. 20.
“I am thankful to have had the opportunity to work these past decades with such (fair and dedicated) individuals in Minnesota’s judicial branch of government,” Bennett said.
Fellow court employees hosted a reception in Bennett’s honor at the Anoka County Courthouse Dec. 18. Dozens of district court staff members, attorneys, judges and admirers attended the fete, during which Bennett was presented with certificates of appreciation for years of service from 10th Judicial District Administrator Michael Moriarity and 10th Judicial District Chief Judge John Hoffman. She also received a certificate of appreciation from Gov. Mark Dayton and another from Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea.
Also presented that afternoon was a hard-bound copy of a four-inch thick reference manual for court administration, compiled by Bennett over the past five years.
Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo expressed his appreciation for Bennett’s hard work and dedication over the years.
“I know JoAnn has been an extremely valuable part of the core process in the court system, and she’s been a calming influence and always has the knowledge and experience to help guide others along,” Palumbo said.
As for her journey in the court system, Bennett calls it somewhat unexpected.
“I did not know that I was embarking on a nearly 40-year career with the court system when I took a position on March 4, 1974, as administrative and legal secretary to the torrens title examiner and to the clerk of district court in Anoka County,” Bennett said.
“Through time, I advanced in the clerk of court’s office being promoted in 1975 to a position of supervisor of civil proceedings, followed by another change in job title to administrative assistant in 1978. Late in 1980, I moved into the position of civil/family division manager and in June of 1984, I was promoted to chief deputy court administrator, the position from which I will (retire).”
During her nearly four decades with Anoka County District Court, Bennett has worked as supervisor and manager, facilitator and trainer. She’s delivered speeches, she’s advised students and explained the role of court administration in the legal process. She’s clarified how the jury selection process works in Anoka County. She’s served as resource person to court administration staff, attorneys and judges on the topic of civil judgments and she’s conducted training in that area.
Not only that, Bennett has written three editions of the “Judgment Reference Manual,” a resource accessible to court administration and other staff via the judicial branch’s intranet.
Over the years, Bennett has seen “dramatic changes take place in Minnesota’s court system,” she said.
“It’s been an interesting ride,” Bennett said. “You deal with lots of personalities on any given day and you can learn something new every day.”
Bennett detailed a few of the many changes she’s seen over the years.
Local, autonomous county-funded courts have morphed over time into a large, centrally-controlled statewide enterprise, she said,
Technology has replaced manual case processing and the court system continues to move into the paperless realm, according to Bennett.
“Despite the multitude of changes in processes, tools and personnel, the one thing that has not changed in 40 years is the fundamental dedication of court staff to follow the principles of fairness and equity, to provide meaningful customer service for clients – both represented and pro se – and to take pride in making a difference in people’s lives, one client at a time,” said Bennett.
Retirement plans for Bennett, who holds a bachelor’s degree in classical languages from Macalester College, a master’s degree in humanities from Florida State University and a fellowship with the Institute for Court Management’s court executive development program, include some continued involvement with the court system, she said.
“I’ve become an expert in civil justice and I hope to stay engaged somehow, perhaps with training or consulting,” Bennett said.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]