Originally published in the January/February 1995 issue.
Author: Stephen C. Fiebiger
Richard S. Scherer was sworn in as a district court judge on July 5, 1994, following appointment by Gov. Arne Carlson. Judge Scherer, a longtime resident of Hennepin County, comes to the Hennepin County bench following 19 years in private practice with the law firm of Castor, Klukas, Scherer & Logren, of Minneapolis.
Judge Scherer grew up in the western Hennepin County suburb of Hopkins and graduated from Hopkins High School. He taught English and history at Robbinsdale Senior High after graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1968. Judge Scherer’s teaching career was interrupted with a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, including service in Vietnam. While in Vietnam he learned to speak the Vietnamese language. After the army, he returned to teaching at Robbinsdale.
Judge Scherer left teaching to enter law school at the University of Minnesota, where he graduated cum laude before entering private practice in Minneapolis. Scherer’s private practice concentrated almost exclusively in the area of civil litigation, with emphasis on insurance defense, products liability, automobile and general liability, personal injury and property damage, toxic tort, declaratory judgment, no-fault and commercial litigation, among others. He also worked in the area of alternative dispute resolution, both as an advocate and as a dispute resolver. In comparing his new position to private practice, Judge Scherer noted that "my role changes; I am no longer an advocate. I am trying to do what is fair. I need to filter through the arguments of attorneys and decide."
Judge Scherer enjoys his new job, particularly the variety he sees. He commented, "Every day is different; I never know what the day is going to hold." He enjoys dealing with people constantly and observes that "a lot of what it takes [to be a judge] is the ability to read people" because he is required "to make judgments in a very brief period of time." To most people, according to Scherer, a judge is an "unknown quality." The judge noted that most people have limited contact with the court system.
After first taking the bench, Judge Scherer spent some time floating through different court assignments, such as in custody, out of custody, court trials, suburban courts, and meeting with staff from the probation department and county and city attorney offices. Judge Scherer adds that "the support people in the court system are absolutely fabulous in their professionalism, help, and suggestions." He says that people in the system are all "very helpful and open." According to Scherer, "They get too little credit in how the system operates." The judge emphasized his strong belief that court staff "really do have good hearts."
Since his appointment, Judge Scherer has conducted some court trials. He estimates that approximately three thousand to four thousand people have come through his court in about three months. He will be on criminal assignments for about a year and then begin receiving civil assignments.
Judge Scherer also observed the following about his role on the court: No matter how small the matter that brings the person into the courthouse, it’s a critical matter to that person and warrants the attention of the district court.
The judge practices what he preaches. While assigned to the suburban court at Southdale, Judge Scherer was approached by a maintenance man who inquired about getting married at the court building. Judge Scherer not only answered the man’s question but also conducted his wedding.
At Judge Scherer’s August 19 public swearing-in ceremony, he noted, among other things, some of his hopes:
My hope is that all of us can approach the task with HEART, with FAITH, and with TRUST:
HEART tempered with compassion and empathy yet strong enough to realize that neither compassion nor empathy alone is enough to make a difference;
FAITH that improvement is possible always regardless of how hopeless the situation may appear at the onset; and
TRUST that hard work, cooperation, and creativity will accomplish more any day than resignation or complacency ever can.
The judge also remarked at his swearing-in ceremony that:
New to the bench, the process of judging others is at times disquieting, despite years of practicing law.
To judge, it seems, is to attempt to call into perspective the lives of others within the context of the larger community.
Even in my brief experience, judging others requires insight not only into community, but also into the life of another who may well (and usually will) come before the bench from a background totally different from that which any of us bring to the bench.
The process of doing justice, then, is fluid, demanding, and difficult. But, it is the task faced daily, and moment by moment, by each of us who presume to sit in judgment of others. The task should be accomplished, as well as possible, with patience, with compassion, with dignity, and with humility.
Judge Scherer’s wife, Nancy, works in human resources at Norwest Bank. They have two children —Matt, age 10, and Cary, age 7—and live in Edina. Judge Scherer spends a lot of his free time with his children and describes himself as a "chauffeur" for all of their activities. He has been active with Cub Scouts, done volunteer work with the Children’s Home Society, served on the board of directors of Edina Montessori, and volunteered time to his church. He enjoys camping, fishing up north, and skiing with his kids in the metro area. Judge Scherer also enjoys reading, but says there is too little time for pleasure reading. He recently read A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Halpern, a book about World War I.
The judge observed that "there’s no way to put into words some of the things that go through your head when somebody’s in front of you at the bench with their small problem or large problem." According to Scherer, "A judge’s real judge is the people he serves." We look forward to Judge Scherer’s service on the bench in Hennepin County.