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Walz appoints environmental lawyer to Northeastern Minnesota appeals court seat

Elise Larson, the first woman to hold the position, previously clerked for several high-profile state and federal judges.

Elise Larson Headshot.jpg
Elise Larson
Contributed / Office of Gov. Tim Walz
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DULUTH — Elise Larson, an environmental advocacy lawyer in Brainerd, will serve as the next Northeastern Minnesota representative on the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday appointed Larson to replace Judge James Florey, a longtime Virginia-based jurist who retired from the error-correcting court April 1.

Colleagues said the former Virginia prosecutor and judge leaves a major legacy in the region and state as he retires from the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Larson, 36, is currently the water program director and a senior attorney at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, which has filed legal challenges to several high-profile Northland projects, including the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes and the Nemadji Trail Energy Center in Superior.

She also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, teaching environmental law and supervising the Environment and Energy Law Clinic.

“I am excited to appoint Elise Larson to the Minnesota Court of Appeals,” Walz said in a statement. “She is a remarkable attorney who has excelled at every stage in her career. Her extensive background practicing civil and administrative law — and her experience clerking for some of the region’s most renowned judges — has prepared her well for the bench.”

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Larson was previously a law clerk for Chief Justice Loria Gildea of the Minnesota Supreme Court, the late Judge Myron Bright of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Chief Judge John Tunheim of the U.S. District Court in Minnesota. She also was an attorney at Briggs and Morgan P.A., representing private-sector clients in complex litigation matters.

“Elise Larson is an outstanding choice to serve as a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals,” Tunheim said in a statement. “She combines a brilliant intellect, an ethic of hard work and a genuine compassionate understanding of people. She will be a great leader in our judiciary in the years to come.”

The Bagley, Minnesota, native is a graduate of Concordia College and the U of M law school. She has served on numerous court- and legislative-based committees, particularly those involving issues of the environment and natural resources.

“Elise Larson is smart, hardworking, collegial, and she has a keen understanding of how the law must make common sense and serve the best interests of the people,” said Paul Anderson, retired Minnesota Supreme Court justice and former Court of Appeals chief judge. “She is also a bona fide daughter of Northern Minnesota, an area she has been selected to represent. She will be an excellent addition to the court.”

A merit-selection panel appointed by Walz previously recommended Larson and three other finalists for the seat: Judge Dale Harris, of Duluth, Judge Korey Wahwassuck, of Grand Rapids, and Judge Stoney Hiljus, of Mora.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals was established in 1983 as an intermediate, error-correcting court in order to allow the state Supreme Court to focus on difficult constitutional and public policy cases. Judges sit in panels of three and serve as the final arbiter in approximately 95% of the more than 2,000 decisions that are appealed from trial courts, state agencies and local governments each year.

The court includes 19 judges: one appointed from each of Minnesota's eight congressional districts, along with 11 members at large. While typically appointed by a governor, the judges serve six-year terms and must run for election in order to retain their seats.

A date was not immediately announced for Larson's investiture. Once sworn in, she will be only the fourth person and first woman to hold the 8th District seat, after Florey, former Duluth attorney Larry Stauber and former Hibbing lawyer R.A. "Jim" Randall.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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