Hennepin County Judge Ivy Bernhardson won the election to succeed Judge Peter Cahill as the chief jurist in the state’s busiest judicial district.

For the past four years, Bernhardson had served as assistant chief to Cahill in the largely administrative job. She was the presumptive successor to Cahill until Judge Tanya Bransford entered the race.

Bransford would have been the first woman of color to lead the Fourth Judicial District based in Minneapolis and including most of the inner ring suburbs to the north, south, east and west as well as the exurbs to the west.

The vote tally, taken during a closed-door judicial meeting, was not made public. The contest marked the first time in more than a decade that an internal judicial election was contested.

The chief’s duties include shaping the budget, personnel and policy while serving on a state council with other chief judges. The chief also represents the judiciary to the Hennepin County Board and can work on projects and initiatives.

Cahill came to the job with extensive experience, having managed the Hennepin County attorney’s office under now-Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Outgoing and sharp-witted, but also strict, he helped steer the judicial system’s transition to a paperless court known as e-court.

In contrast, Bernhardson isn’t as politically connected nor has she been among the jurists who make an effort at being accessible behind the scenes. She’s known to regularly e-mail familiar inspirational quotes to her 61 colleagues.

As assistant chief, Bernhardson said she became well-prepared for the top job. In an interview before the election, she said, “Nothing is more important than public trust and confidence in the justice system. … We must improve how we communicate with our diverse court users, and my vision includes finding the next generation of innovations.”

Bernhardson, 64, was appointed to the bench by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007. She spent much of her career in corporate law, including 23 years at General Mills. She also worked for Medica and the Hazelden Foundation. She. She graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Law.

The chief judge contest came during a time of high-profile issues such as the Minneapolis Police shooting of Jamar Clark, racial disparity issues and a state push to reform drug sentences.

Bransford’s election would have made a visible point. She ran because she said she wanted to have an impact on racial equity in the court system.

Bransford, 56, was appointed to the bench by Gov. Arne Carlson. She is a founding member of the state Supreme Court’s Committee for Equality and Justice and was instrumental in changes in juvenile detention policy and implicit bias training. She’s also an ebullient presence around the courthouse with an easy laugh.

Judge Todd Barnette was unopposed in his bid to be the assistant chief.

The chief position pays an extra $14,000 over the two-year term. Bernhardson’s term begins July 1.


Twitter: @rochelleolson