Chief Ramsey County judge follows in father's steps

Teresa Warner, at the helm of Ramsey County bench, has strived "to be as good a judge'' as dad Harold Schultz, who died in 2003.

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Ramsey County District Judge Teresa Warne

Photo: Megan Tan, Star Tribune

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As a child, Ramsey County District Judge Teresa Warner was known as Tracy Schultz, and the courthouse was another place to play.

She'd brush her hand against the God of Peace statue and make her way to the 13th-floor chambers of her dad: District Judge Harold Schultz.

Today, she has succeeded her father -- "a man's man" to the journalists of his day -- not only as a member of the bench in Ramsey County, but as its chief judge, too. There is pride in this family of judges.

Recently, Warner, 53, spoke of being a clerk for her dad when he was chief judge, adding: "I kind of get goosebumps when I think of it."

He was 85 when he died in 2003. During his public life, he wrote laws as a DFL state senator, applied them as a District Court judge and -- when needed, his daughter says -- corrected his peers while on the Court of Appeals.

To reporters, he described himself as "methodical," doing one thing at a time -- this on a day when he introduced seven bills in the state Senate, where he kept company with people whose names are now on buildings.

With wife Antoinette, he raised nine kids on St. Paul's East Side, taking the bus to work daily. Of the nine children, Warner was the third -- after brothers Harold (Hap) Schultz II and Larry Schultz, now a state administrative law judge and a Ramsey County prosecutor, respectively -- to follow him into the profession.

When appointed to the bench in 1998, she said she had a new goal: "To be as good a judge as my dad was."

She had the chance to take his old 13th-floor chambers, but opted against it for practical reasons: There was no longer a courtroom attached.

"You can be a good judge without being in your dad's chambers," she remembers a courthouse veteran telling her. "He was a master in the courtroom -- and that's where you really want to shine."

Three days before her father died, she picked up a burger and fries from Obb's bar, and they shared it over lunch. They spoke about a case she was handling, plus another involving the Court of Appeals.

Then, she said, "he took a nap, and he never woke up."

Recently, she visited with her mother, now 92, and told her she had been elected chief judge.

"Your dad would be so proud," her mother said.

"Someday," the daughter replied, "I hope you guys are as proud of me as I am of you."

Some tough cases

This reporter recalls seeing Tracy Schultz -- a star athlete -- gun down an opposing player at the plate when she was a seventh-grade outfielder at St. Casimir's grade school.

He had the misfortune, too, of being stuffed by Schultz while driving down the lane in a pickup basketball game. She's not that tall.

Warner went to St. Mary's College in Winona, and thought at first about a career in hospital administration. She shifted gears after an internship with a law firm.

After graduating from William Mitchell College of Law, she served in private practice and then as a Washington County prosecutor before being appointed a judge.

A short time later, visiting with her parents, she mentioned the trouble she was having writing a judicial order.

"Never say more than you have to," her father said.

Like her dad, with his daily bus rides, she has a routine of sorts, too, taking the East Side's Arcade Street to work. At times, she thinks of a woman who was shot and left for dead in an apartment there. She handled the case.

She recalls, too, the first time she had to terminate someone's parental rights.

Two years ago, Warner closed out proceedings involving the so-called RNC 8 -- a group charged with conspiracy to riot at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul -- by cutting off a defendant who tried to read the Dr. Seuss book "The Lorax."

"It detracted, really, from what he wanted to say," she says.

A fast clip

Last week, in her role as chief judge, Warner assigned a murder case to a colleague. She still hears cases, too.

On a recent Thursday, she was at the Law Enforcement Center, presiding over first appearances and omnibus hearings.

Typically, defendants will come and go quickly.

But on this day, Warner heard five of nine suspects enter guilty pleas in the first hour.

In one case, a 25-year-old stated his intent to plead guilty to domestic assault.

The prosecutor, aiming to get the facts on the record, asked: Was there a physical altercation?

That's what the evidence says, the man said.

"That's not the question," the judge interjected.

Eventually, after directing the prosecutor to ask a second round of questions, Warner posed queries herself.

She got him to say that he used his hands; that the victim struggled; that he applied pressure to her throat. Satisfied, she accepted his guilty plea.

It was all quite methodical.

Anthony Lonetree • 612-875-0041

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