Public defender named to Duluth bench

19 July 2023

DULUTH A leader in the local public defender’s office has been appointed to the 6th Judicial District bench in Duluth.

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday selected Nicole Hopps to fill the seat vacated by Judge Sally Tarnowski, who died unexpectedly in March.

Tarnowski “served the district with great distinction” and “leaves a deep and lasting legacy” in Northeastern Minnesota, Walz said.

“With Hopps’ years of experience as a public defender, striving for equitable and just outcomes for her clients, I am confident she will be a remarkable and fair jurist and leader for the 6th Judicial District,” the governor said in a statement.

Hopps, 42, of Hermantown, is a managing attorney for the district’s public defender’s office, overseeing attorneys and support staff in southern St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties. Working in the areas of rehabilitative justice, diversion and welfare, she also maintains an active caseload of indigent clients.

In the community, Hopps has served with the Carlton County Community Outreach Program, the South St. Louis County Mental Health Court and Indian Child Welfare Act Court teams.

Previously a finalist for a seat on the Carlton County bench in 2021, Hopps was picked from a pool of candidates recommended by the Minnesota Commission on Judicial Selection. Two current judicial officers, child support Magistrate Clarissa Ek and Referee Jessica Fralich, also were in the running.

Tarnowski, 63, died March 6 after being struck by a car while on a morning run on vacation in Venice, Florida. She was one of the longest-serving members of the 6th District bench, having been appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007 before getting reelected to three full terms.

The 6th District includes 16 judges at six courthouses in St. Louis, Carlton, Cook and Lake counties. Half are chambered in Duluth, but Walz has made only one prior appointment there: Shawn Pearson in 2021.

Judges appear on the ballot in all four counties and must live within the district. No date was immediately set for Hopps’ investiture.


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