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Crow Wing County swears in Judge Strandlie

Christopher Strandlie--who spent years prosecuting criminal cases as the Cass County attorney--will now dress in a black robe and sit on the bench to face the prosecution and defense lawyers.

New Judge Christopher Strandlie gets hugs from his mother and father Kay and Roger Strandlie Friday after being sworn in as Ninth District judge at the Crow Wing County District Courthouse in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video
New Judge Christopher Strandlie gets hugs from his mother and father Kay and Roger Strandlie Friday after being sworn in as Ninth District judge at the Crow Wing County District Courthouse in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video

Christopher Strandlie-who spent years prosecuting criminal cases as the Cass County attorney-will now dress in a black robe and sit on the bench to face the prosecution and defense lawyers.

Strandlie was sworn in Friday by Judge Earl Maus in Crow Wing County District Court in Brainerd as the 24th judge to serve the Ninth Judicial District. Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Strandlie to fill the position for a retiring Judge Richard A. Zimmerman. That judgeship will be chambered in Brainerd in Crow Wing County.

Minnesota's Ninth Judicial District covers 25,000 square miles in the 17 counties of Aitkin, Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, Kittson, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake and Roseau.

Family, friends and colleagues filled the gallery of Courtroom 1 to honor and support Strandlie as he took his judicial oath. Judges of the Ninth District filled the first three benches, including retired Judge John P. Smith, as Chief Judge Paul T. Benshoof of the Ninth District led the swearing-in ceremony.

Benshoof, among others who spoke at the ceremony, told Strandlie he has big shoes to fill.

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"The courthouse is a symbol of the community's dedication and commitment to the legal law," Benshoof said. "The law is a living, breathing reality. The law is what holds the criminals accountable. The law is what protects an individual from the state, the law is what protects the abused and neglected children, the law is what resolves difference. ...

"The judge is the person who the community gives the power to enforce and apply the law. ... If we don't have the trust and respect of the public we serve, without your trust, when we come into the court to hear your case carefully, decide it carefully and without you knowing that we will treat you with fairness, dignity and respect, we have no power."

Benshoof said being a judge is a gift and Strandlie understands this gift, and understands the law. Benshoof said he is confident Strandlie will treat people with fairness, dignity and respect and be "an outstanding judge."

Chuck Halverson, a criminal defense lawyer in Brainerd, also spoke before Strandlie took his judicial oath.

"I'm here to assure the people who work in this station you will be alright when Chris Strandlie puts on that black robe," Halverson, who has known Strandlie for close to 18 years, said. "We've handled difficult and tough criminal cases and we have used each other to consult and advise on stuff we are doing that doesn't involve he or I. ... In that period of time you spend together you get to know how a person thinks, you get to know what's important to a person and you get to know what that person and their makeup is. Over that course of the time, the reality is, most of our conversations have been about the trials and tribulations of being a hockey parent."

Halverson said Strandlie's No. 1 priority is his family-his wife Erica and their four children. He said he knows Strandlie will do a good job as a judge and will do it with integrity, patience and a sense of humor when needed.

"I get the privilege of watching a lot of good judges around the state and I know Chris Strandlie can do it," Halverson said. "I'm excited he is coming to this station to work and I frankly think this is the toughest station for a judge to work in the state, and particularly this judicial district. It's not going to be an easy job. For us to do what we have to do on the prosecution side or the defense side, it's our job to drive every judge nuts."

When Maus got up to the podium to speak, he went over Strandlie's background.

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Strandlie was born and raised in Walker, graduating from Walker-Hackensack-Akeley High School in 1984. He joined the Army shortly after graduation and served until being honorably discharged in 1986. He returned to Walker in 1995 after completing undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and law school at the University of North Dakota. He was a partner in a private law firm until commencing his career with Cass County.

Strandlie previously served as assistant Cass County attorney, an assistant Ninth Judicial District public defender, a partner at Kimball and Strandlie Law Office and an alternative public defender for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

Strandlie has been a director of the Minnesota County Attorney's Association Board since 2013. On the MCAA, he has served on the Executive Committee, Criminal Law/Legislative Committee, Indian Law Committee and Diversity Committee. He also is a founding member of the Cass County and Leech Lake Wellness Court and a member of the Ninth District Bar Association, Working Together Coalition, Cass County Law Library Board, Minnesota State Bar Association and the Minnesota Children's Justice Initiative and is vice president of the Walker Youth Hockey Board.

Strandlie has been on the Walker Volunteer Fire Department for 21 years, is a member of the Walker American Legion and is a lifelong member of Hope Lutheran Church of Walker. He also volunteers at the elementary school in Walker in the Dads of Great Students program, at the Walker high school to talk to students after safety during prom and graduation, is on the board of the Tianna Country Club and volunteers as a Zamboni driver.

Maus shared a story from the 1980s when he played softball in a Walker league. He said he was running to third base when he got hit in the head with a ball. He said it dropped him down on his knees.

"I never knew who threw that ball," Maus said.

He said Strandlie told him it was him after he was hired as the Cass County assistant attorney. Maus worked side by side with Strandlie in Cass County. Maus said Strandlie has a high dignity and is willing to take the time to understand a case. He said Strandlie has always done the right thing and taken the right path.

After Strandlie took his judicial oath, he thanked everyone for coming and said the news of him being a judge is surreal. He said it has been a long journey and he will serve the people of Crow Wing County to the best of his ability.

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Strandlie said as he looks back at his career, he said Judge Smith was instrumental in mentoring him as a young lawyer. He said Smith, other judges and many other of his colleagues over the years, including Cass County Public Defender Jay Sommers, helped him grow as a good lawyer.

Strandlie said he has always tried to do the right thing and he will continue to do what he thinks is right. He said he will be fair and uphold the law and see that justice is served.

Strandlie's wife, Erica, said, "I'm very proud of him. He worked very hard to get to this place in his life."

After the ceremony, Smith said Strandie started his career as an attorney in front of him when he was a judge in 1995.

"He was new and learning a lot of things," Smith said. "He was doing defense work at the time. Chris tried a lot of homicide cases in front of me over the years ... a lot of difficult cases. He always did the right thing. He was forthright and you can trust what he did and trust what he said.

"He is a real upfront guy. He has a great deal of integrity. I've known his family for many years. His father was my music teacher in Nevis. ... I'm very proud of him, he will do a great job."

"I was real pleased with his appointment," Judge Zimmerman said. "He's got all the qualities to get the job done."

"We're really excited for Chris and congratulate him on his judgeship," Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch, who has known Strandie for more than 20 years, said. "It will be difficult to replace him. It's interesting and a neat thing to have someone from our county go to the bench so we're excited for him.

"He has a good demeanor and the knowledge to really excel in this position."

"This is momentous for him and a terrible loss for us," Cass County Assistant Attorney Jon Eclov said of Strandlie, a man he's known for close to 20 years. "He's been a great boss to have. He'll be working along his old pal Judge Maus so that will be an excellent thing. He was the assistant county attorney, then the county attorney and now a judge, so hallelujah.

"He's very fair, very balanced, very steady and he will be excellent judge."

Cass County Sheriff Investigator Tony Cyr said he grew up with Strandie, who was a couple of years ahead of him in high school.

"It's ironic to see the kid who you used to see walk down the street is now in this position," Cyr said. "It's fun to watch everyone grow (in their careers.)

"Chris is very articulate about things and is good at making decisions after having all the facts."

Erica Strandlie Friday holds the Bible for husband Christopher Strandlie as he is sworn in as a Ninth District judge in Crow Wing County District Court by Judge Earl Maus. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video
Erica Strandlie Friday holds the Bible for husband Christopher Strandlie as he is sworn in as a Ninth District judge in Crow Wing County District Court by Judge Earl Maus. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video

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