Gina M. Brandt
Originally published in the January 2007 issue.
Author: Robert Oleisky
On June 7, 2006, Gina M. Brandt was sworn in as a judge of the Fourth Judicial District after being appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Judge Brandt’s swearing-in marked a long-time goal of becoming a judge that she had set as a junior high school student when she visited Washington, D.C., and saw the legislative process firsthand.
Judge Brandt was born in Chicago, Illinois, then lived in Rochester, New York, from the sixth grade to the 11th grade. Her father was transferred to Minnesota, and she reluctantly followed, graduating from Burnsville High School in 1984. Brandt decided she liked Minnesota so much that she ended up staying here and attending the College of St. Benedict. Brandt then attended the William Mitchell College of Law, graduating in 1991.
Brandt began her legal career clerking for Judge Philip Kanning in Carver County from 1991 to 1993. She then went into private practice where she started on the path of criminal prosecution. From 1993 to 1996, she was the prosecutor for the city of Hutchinson. From there she went to the Carver County Attorney’s Office as an assistant county attorney in the Criminal Division, handling all types of criminal cases.
From 1999 to her appointment in June 2006, Brandt worked at the law firm of Campbell Knutson, PA, as a city prosecutor for a number of cities, including Plymouth and Chanhassen. She handled all types of misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, from DWIs to domestic assaults to traffic violations. In 2004, Brandt was the co-editor and author of the Minnesota State DWI Deskbook and also served as counsel for the Burnsville Domestic Abuse Response Team. She also did legislative and case law training for the client cities’ police departments. Elliot Knetsch of Campbell Knutson said that hiring her was “the best decision I ever made in my career.”
As one can see, Judge Brandt has been involved with the criminal justice system throughout her legal career. Brandt stated that public work is something she wanted to do since elementary school. She has always known that she wanted to help people and serve the public and being a judge was a logical next step for her. “The law provides a way to help people. Being a judge allows someone to make a difference,” said Brandt. She stated that she has had many fine role models on the Hennepin County bench. Her former law firm colleague Knetsch stated, “She will be an excellent judge. She will treat everyone well and leave them feeling like they had a fair day in court.”
Brandt said she looks forward to dealing with the many new challenges of being a judge. From the serious felonies to the DWIs to the fifth-degree domestic assaults, she knows that “every day I walk into a courtroom, every decision I make is having an influence and impact on the person I am dealing with.”
When asked what has been the biggest challenge so far for her, she said that having to be proficient in so many areas of the law is difficult, but that she looks forward to the experience. She said that handling the felony arraignment calendar, for instance, can be a difficult process—having to make decisions in such a quick manner on so many tough and serious cases. Brandt also stated that she was surprised by how much she enjoyed performing weddings.
Brandt is scheduled to go to Juvenile Court in July 2007 for a two-year period and is excited for that new role. “I think I can make a difference for children. My experiences in the criminal law area will hopefully serve me well in Juvenile Court.”
“Judge Brandt was a class act as a lawyer and prosecutor and I am sure that she’ll continue to be a class act as a judge. Both her temperament and judgment are well-suited for her new job. She is respected by both the prosecution and defense bar,” said David Roston, a criminal defense lawyer. Glenn Binder, a Hennepin County public defender, said, “I’ve known her for many years and dealt with her as a defense lawyer, both privately and as a public defender. She will be a great addition to the Hennepin County bench. She is smart, compassionate, and tough when she needs to be.”
Brandt is married to attorney John T. Brandt of the law firm of Merrigan, Brandt & Ostenso in Hopkins. She has two children, Ben, a second grader, and Maddie, who is in kindergarten. She is very involved in Ben’s charter school as a parent volunteer and reluctantly described herself as a “hockey mom.” Brandt is also a huge baseball fan—the Minnesota Twins in particular. She lists her hobbies as cooking, eating, and traveling, especially where there are beaches and sun.
Judge Brandt’s enthusiasm and respect for all those around her will surely make a wonderful impact on the Hennepin County District Court.