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Long-time judge to retire, search underway for successor

It’s official — Sixth Judicial Court Judge Dale Wolf will retire next month, signaling the end of an era in Carlton County.

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Wolf has served on the bench for 36 years, making him the longest-seated judge currently serving in the state of Minnesota.

Wolf was first appointed to the trial court bench as judicial officer for Carlton County on July 5, 1978.  He was then appointed judge of County Court in July 1982 by Governor Al Quie and elected as district court judge for the Sixth District in 1984, 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008. His current term expires in 2015.

Though Wolf’s official retirement date is only a month away, he was in the Twin Cities this week in drug court training, an up-and-coming judicial format which he hopes Carlton County will be able to get up and running later this year. When and if it does, he will likely be back on the bench, hearing drug court cases a couple of times a month in his retirement capacity as a “senior judge.” He said he also plans to fill in as needed for vacation absences, during times of unusually high caseloads and in other areas of the district where outside judges are needed.

Wolf said though he will still remain active in retirement, it will be nice to find out what it’s like to ease up a bit.

“Ever since I grew up on the farm with chores to do, I’ve always had a schedule I had to meet,” he commented. “With teaching, serving on the bench, performing weekend weddings and helping out my neighbors, I’ve always had things that needed to be done.”

He said the hardest thing about retirement will be leaving behind the daily interaction with his valued co-workers at the county.

“I’ve lost my mom, my dad and my brother,” he said, “but I’ve always felt I had family among the staff members at Carlton County. I have been blessed to work with some of the best employees anywhere. Our county is known for its willingness to work together, without boundaries. It’s heart-warming to see the extra miles those people put in. It’s a story that’s never told.”

Though Wolf will leave behind some mighty big shoes to fill, the process of finding his replacement is already in motion.

According to Carlton County Court Administrator Judy Isaacson, on Feb. 13 Chief Justice Lorie Gildea of the Supreme Court notified Governor Dayton that a vacancy would be occurring in Carlton County upon the retirement of Judge Wolf, effective April 11.     

On Feb. 21, the Commission on Judicial Selection was notified and the process for taking applications and selecting candidates began.   

Matt Swenson of Governor Mark Dayton’s office said candidates for the position have until April 4 to submit their applications. The Judicial Selection Committee will then have until April 22 to announce their final selections to the Governor. During the three to six weeks following, Governor Dayton will interview the finalists and announce his selection.

Swenson said after the Governor appoints the new judge, he or she will officially be seated within the next two to six weeks.

Isaacson said Carlton County intends to bring in retired judges to assist with hearing cases during the interim period of time until a new judge is appointed and ready to begin working.   

Co-workers are planning a retirement courthouse coffee party for Judge Wolf on Thursday, April 10, in the afternoon, and a formal retirement party is being planned for the evening of Friday, April 11.