Worthington's Wietzema takes judicial oath of office
WINDOM -- More than a dozen judges were in a Cottonwood County courtroom Wednesday afternoon to welcome a new addition to the bench in service to Minnesota's Fifth Judicial District.
Christina Wietzema, a Worthington attorney who has spent the past 15 years as a local public defender, took her oath of office and donned a judge's robe for the first time during the Judicial Investiture. She will preside in both Cottonwood and Murray counties, where she is taking the place of retiring judges Bruce Gross and David Christensen.
In a ceremony that lasted little more than half an hour, Wietzema gave much credit to the four retired senior judges of the Fifth Judicial District -- Jeffrey Flynn, Timothy Connell, Christensen and Gross -- saying she'd learned much from them during her 19-year career.
"I believe southwest Minnesota is a great place to be a lawyer and practice law, and it mostly, I think, has a great deal to do with the four of you," Wietzema said.
"I believe we owe you all a debt of gratitude. Over the last 20 or 30 years, by your leadership, your wisdom as judges and as people, you have created an atmosphere of respect, civility, fairness and justice in our courtrooms and in our communities. My hope as a new judge is that I will follow your lead and continue on this path."
She also recognized her own growth as an attorney working before them.
"Judge Flynn and Judge Connell, especially in those early years, you both demonstrated tremendous patience with me when I was a brand new lawyer and I struggled to gain my footing and find my voice, literally and figuratively, and learn how to be a lawyer," Wietzema said from the bench before a crowded courtroom filled with her family, friends and colleagues.
As Wietzema shared her early struggles as a soft-spoken young woman, she acknowledged Stan Engum, a former court reporter, in the audience, and said it was because of him she learned to speak up as an attorney.
"Almost daily when I first started as an attorney he would have to stop the hearing and tell me in a loud and very frustrated voice, 'Speak up, counsel,'" she shared as those in the courtroom chuckled. "I learned to speak up because, to be honest, I was sort of afraid of you."
Wietzema thanked John Scholl and Cy Bernardy for taking a chance on a "25-year-old kid" by offering her a job right out of law school to work in the Bernardy-Scholl Law Office. She said she was grateful for their mentoring and friendship and "wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for you."
The Pierz native came to Worthington in 1993 after graduating with a juris doctorate from Hamline University. Her first four years in Worthington were with Bernardy-Scholl, working a multitude of cases ranging from criminal to family law, probate and personal injury.
Scholl, who now works as a public defender in the Fifth Judicial District, provided the remarks during Wednesday's investiture.
"I've known Christina for over 19 years, first as her employer, now as a colleague and as a friend," he said. "Christina is a person who, when confronted with a problem, she sees it as an opportunity to solve something, rather than make excuses for inaction or failure. This applies in all aspects of her life."
Scholl talked of how Wietzema replaced the radio in her own vehicle, and was often the one to help solve problems with the copier or computer in the public defender's office.
"She also applies this in working for her clients and advocating for her clients," he said. "When she needs to find a novel argument to assist a client, she will ask the questions, she will consult with people to come up with the best solutions for her clients. Over the years I've observed she's become a very able advocate for these clients.
"Christina does have a great work ethic and will approach her work as a judge with great care," he added. "She will listen to both sides, learn the law as applicable to the case and apply the law impartially and with a sense of justice. She exercises good judgment and I believe she will also do this as a judge."
Wietzema said her role as judge is a duty and a challenge she looks forward to.
"I take my oath seriously and I pledge to all to do my best, to work hard every day and to never forget that, first of all, I am a public servant," she said.
While Wietzema was able to celebrate her investiture with her husband Todd, sons Zachary and Tyler, her parents, brother, aunt and uncle, she wanted to give special recognition during the ceremony to two women who weren't able to make the trip from Pierz -- her grandmothers.
"I'm fortunate enough, at the age of 44, to still have two grandmothers, both in their mid- to late-90s and living in assisted living facilities," she said. "I came to realize a couple of months ago that both of them were born at a time when women didn't even have the right to vote.
"Thinking of my grandmothers reminds me of what an amazing country we live in, what changes there can be and what great progress can be made in the span of just one lifetime," she added.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.