Elizabeth V. Cutter
Originally published in the January 2013 issue.
Author: Kimberly Hanlon
Judge Elizabeth Cutter has a strong commitment to community service that has been evident throughout her legal career. After graduating from William Mitchell College of Law with honors in 1980, she worked as a special assistant Minnesota attorney general and an assistant Hennepin County attorney, most recently as a senior assistant county attorney responsible for felony domestic violence prosecution. In that capacity, she served on the Domestic Violence Steering Committee, the Fatality Review Team, and the Family Violence Coordinating Counsel. She also served as 2010-2011 president of Minnesota Women Lawyers and in that role helped to implement a strategic plan for the organization, created the Parity Taskforce, and obtained substantial funding to implement the recommendations made by that taskforce. With her record of public service, it is no surprise that she would be drawn to serve the bar and our community through judicial service.
Cutter’s commitment to community service was heavily influenced by her family. Her father served as Anoka County attorney where his father served as a County attorney before him. Both parents were deeply involved in community service throughout their lives and encouraged all eight of their children to do the same. From her family, Cutter learned that people are more important than revenue, and community interest is more important than self interest. After her father’s death when she was eight, Cutter learned that the world was different for women: her mother, who ran a small town business to support her children, faced many hurdles in her efforts to support her family that were not faced by males in her position. For example, she was not invited to join the town’s business association but when Cutter’s older brother began working at the business, he was immediately invited to join. Cutter developed her sense of fairness from these early experiences, and developed her interminable spirit and determination from watching her mother persevere and succeed.
In 2011, Cutter, accompanied Cheryl Thomas, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program, to Kazakhstan and Turkey to train local prosecutors, law enforcement, and judges on implementation of their countries’ domestic violence laws. Domestic violence laws are new in that region of the world and those working in the justice system were unfamiliar with best practices. As a direct result of the training, Cutter had the opportunity to see a dramatic shift in the mindset and culture of the participants regarding their role in responding to domestic violence. Her experiences with the important work of The Advocates for Human Rights provided a wider perspective to her own work in domestic violence and she looks forward to learning about the implementation of the new laws in those countries.
Cutter was appointed by former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz to the Minnesota Rules of Evidence Committee, and served as a board member of Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association, Minnesota Institutional Review Board, and Minnesota Swimming, Inc. She currently serves on the board for Interact Center for the Arts. She also volunteers as a mock trial coach and judge for the Minnesota State Bar Mock Trial program and on the ethics and nominating committees of the Hennepin County Bar Association. In 2011, Cutter was selected as attorney of the year by Minnesota Lawyer. She is known for being compassionate, responsive, patient, respectful, and fair. She is also known to be a very hard worker and to have an unfailing commitment to justice. Cutter will bring all of these attributes to the bench when she serves.
Cutter developed an interest in serving on the bench after working as a trial attorney and seeing the difference a good judge can make in the administration of justice. Throughout her career, she has been able to make a difference in the community and has worked with people of all walks of life, often in the most challenging of circumstances of their lives. Cutter sees service as a Hennepin County District judge as a way to make a different kind of impact on the community and on the justice system. Others in our legal community recognized her commitment and qualifications, and she was endorsed by leaders of the legal community and the community at large as well as labor, and law enforcement. She also received 75 percent of the votes in the HCBA’s judicial plebiscite.
Despite all the support and recognition from the legal community and Minnesota community at large, Cutter remains humble and speaks with gratitude of all the opportunities she has been given to serve. She recognizes that Hennepin County has increasing challenges given decreasing resources to meet increasing needs. She is excited to bring her experience in finding new, cost-effective solutions to serve the public in her new role. She looks forward to helping make the courts more efficient and effective.
Currently, she is wrapping up business at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, handing her cases and committee responsibilities to her successors, and looking forward to her upcoming extensive judicial training.
Cutter will start her judicial career on the misdemeanor docket. When asked about advice to give to the attorneys who will appear before her, she said that both the city attorneys and the public defenders in Hennepin County do an excellent job. She noted that all attorneys appearing before any judge should keep in mind that the judge does not know the cases as well as the attorneys, and may not be familiar with the specific law that applies. It is important for the attorneys to make sure the court is aware of the relevant facts and to educate the judge on the applicable law. Cutter said that she will rely on the attorneys’ expertise to help her make an informed and fair decision.
When, in the future, Cutter is assigned to a specialized docket, her experience with both criminal prosecution and civil litigation will serve her well.
Cutter expressed that she is grateful to all who worked hard to see that she was elected and, in particular, to the many men and women who have mentored and supported her throughout her career, providing her with valuable learning and leadership opportunities. She would not be the person she is today but for those experiences, and she will be a better judge because of them.
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