Originally published in the November 2008 issue.
Author: Patrick Ostergren
Anne McKeig takes the bench with authority and efficiency, as if she has many years of experience on it. What is not readily apparent to those appearing before her, but which quickly becomes evident, is the heart and vision with which she serves the Bench and the citizens of Hennepin County.
Appointed Feb. 6, 2008, by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, McKeig took the bench on April 7. Although new to presiding over the criminal cases that come before her, McKeig brings a breadth of experience of the Hennepin County District Court and the procedures of the busy court system. At the announcement of her appointment to the Hennepin County bench, Governor Pawlenty commented that Judge McKeig “would bring a wealth of professional experience and has the skills and demeanor for the position, a commitment to public service, a strong work ethic, and a diverse background, which will be an asset to the Hennepin County Bench.” Judge McKeig not only brings a significant amount of experience serving the residents of Hennepin County, her background includes a deep understanding of complicated, delicate, and diverse problems and issues.
A member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, McKeig grew up in blue-collar surroundings in Federal Dam, Minnesota, on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation with no exposure to lawyers. Among the first in her family to attend college, McKeig moved to St. Paul and attended the College of St. Catherine. There she was exposed to judges, lawyers, and the legal system as well as to the problems that confront the legal community. A high school interest in dentistry gave way to a focus on law careers once she realized there “was just too much science” in dentistry. She changed her focus to law, and her career path was set.
Judge McKeig attended Hamline Law School. Prior to graduating from Hamline, she landed a clerkship with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. Assigned to the Child Protection Division, she immediately fell in love with serving the community. After her graduation, she became a Hennepin County attorney working in the Child Protection Division, a position she held until her appointment to the bench. While an assistant county attorney, McKeig specialized in Federal Indian Child Welfare Act cases.
As a county attorney, Judge McKeig had the difficult task of handling cases that involved the removal of children from families and caregivers. Oftentimes, children had been abused and neglected. Judge McKeig had the unenviable task of removing children from unsafe conditions, all the while knowing the pain that removal would cause those parents and/or guardians who were often suffering from social, mental, and other problems that prevented them from providing adequate care for their children.
“There is nothing like removing children from a home a second or third time from parents who simply do not have the capacity to care for children. It’s not as though the parents do not love their children. They simply can’t provide and care for these children properly because of reasons outside of their control. It is no less painful to any parent to have a child removed from their family when they cannot care for that child than when they can and choose not to,” McKeig said.
Sometimes Judge McKeig found herself in the position of having to litigate against a parent who was neglecting a fourth child, having already had the first three removed.
In her work, prosecuting cases under the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act, McKeig worked side by side with the Indian communities in removal proceedings. Unlike non-Native American child removal cases, removals of Native American children from their parents or guardians require the cooperation, guidance, and counsel of the tribe itself. Throughout her years of work with the Native American community, McKeig developed relationships with numerous tribes in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, often traveling great distances to seek the advice, counsel, and support of the tribe to proceed in the best interest of the child.
Now, as a Hennepin County District Court judge, McKeig brings to the bench her experience and talents for working with painful, personal, and delicate problems within diverse communities. She will be uniquely adept at understanding the nuances and possesses the sensitivity necessary to work with the different cultures and belief systems in Hennepin County.
The decision to seek a judgeship did not come easy. Judge McKeig sought the counsel of her professional colleagues and members of the bench. Hennepin County Court Judge Robert Blaeser recalls McKeig appearing before him when he was assigned to the Juvenile Division. He watched her grow as an attorney, perfecting her skill and courtroom demeanor. As an attorney, McKeig was an emotional and zealous advocate for her clients. One of the challenges she faced in taking the bench was whether she could re-channel that emotion to serving the broader Hennepin County community. By all accounts, that transition has been smooth.
“Judge McKeig is a hardworking, no-pretense individual who will bring a blue-collar attitude and common sense to the bench,” Judge Blaeser said. She has a sense of humor, which will help her not only get through a busy criminal day but also help lighten a sometimes stressful courtroom. Now that McKeig is on the bench, Judge Blaeser and his colleagues have seen just how hardworking she is. When she finishes her criminal calendar in the afternoons, she will often offer to take cases off other judges’ calendars and help get things done.
Sensitivity and ability to deal with diverse interests is also a skill Judge McKeig has learned in her personal life. Growing up in rural Minnesota, she leaned the value of family, community, and hard work. When she married her husband, she also married into a family with three children; two were teenagers, none of whom spoke English. McKeig does not speak Spanish—the children’s first language. McKieg and her husband have had two additional children together, making for a large, diverse, and happy family in their busy Brooklyn Park household.
Her current assignment finds her presiding over misdemeanor calendars, where she is getting to know the community of lawyers and judges she will be working with as well as the community at large. Dealing with the police, investigators, and Hennepin County families is nothing new to Judge McKeig. However, attending to the welfare of Hennepin County’s children has been replaced, at least temporarily, with protecting and serving all of the citizens of Hennepin County. As before, her understanding of our diverse community serves her well as she weighs the interests and safety of Hennepin County residents against the personal liberties of its citizens.
Judge McKeig has lent her time to various community agencies. She has served on the Governor’s Task Force on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. She has also worked as an adjunct professor at Hamline University School of Law and as a trainer with the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Welcome Judge McKeig!
Back to Top