In the courtroom, he was Judge Steven A. Anderson. On the street, he preferred to be called Steve.
He was a Minneapolis kid who grew up to make Princeton, Minn. — a small town 50 miles north of the Twin Cities — his longtime home and the place where he practiced law for 30 years before being appointed judge for the sprawling Seventh Judicial District that stretches across 10 counties.
He tried to be one of the most inconspicuous people in the courtroom, said Sarah Erickson, an assistant Mille Lacs County attorney who worked as Anderson’s law clerk for nearly two years. And yet, he had a commanding presence.
“Judges and attorneys generally are overachievers who always feel like they have to prove themselves and always have to be the smartest person in the room,” Erickson said.
Not Anderson. He was a man of few words who preferred to listen and observe, she said. When he spoke, he chose his words carefully and deliberately. When he talked, people listened, Erickson said.
Anderson, 65, died April 17 at Bethesda Hospital after a short battle with COVID-19.
“He was everyone’s favorite judge,” Erickson said. He treated people with respect, belittling no one and finding the best in everyone, including defendants.
“Except for adoptions, no one is ever in court because they’re having a good day,” Erickson said. “It’s often the worst day of their lives.”
Amid chaos, he was unflappable. He was always the voice of reason, Erickson said. He was aware that other people — from victims to defendants — had to live with the decisions he made.
“He once told me that the law is based on fundamental fairness,” Erickson said. “If it doesn’t sound fair, then you’re probably headed in the wrong direction.”
Before then Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed him district judge in 2006, Anderson served as a city attorney for Princeton and nearby communities.
In his private practice, he accommodated those who couldn’t afford an attorney.
“He would say, ‘Give me whatever is fair,’ ” recalled his son Mark. Sometimes that meant bushels of corn or the promise of a car repair.
“He worked for people he saw in the grocery store or at church,” his son said. “If he could use his expertise so it gave them a positive result, that made him feel good.”
He is survived by his wife, Karen; sons, Christopher of Boston and Mark of New York City; four grandchildren; and his father, Richard, of Champlin.