Doris Ohlsen Huspeni paused her college studies for marriage and children in 1949 after meeting her husband in a German language class at the University of Minnesota.
More than a decade later, she returned to school, finished her undergraduate degree in sociology, graduated from William Mitchell College of Law and began a 44-year trailblazing legal career.
Huspeni spent 14 years on the Minnesota Court of Appeals before facing mandatory retirement from the judiciary at age 70.
Huspeni died Sept. 11 at home in Lindstrom. She was 91 and had been battling cancer for the past few years, according to her son Todd Huspeni of Stevens Point, Wis.
“I want to be able to look back and say I at least tried to leave the world a little better,” she said of her career choice in 1990.
Doris Ohlsen was born in Minneapolis in February 1929. After meeting Joseph Huspeni at the U, they married and moved to Florida when Joseph, a Naval reservist, was called to duty there during the Korean War. They had the first of six children in 1952.
Two more sons followed. After the death of their infant daughter, Mary, in 1962, Joseph Huspeni, an engineer at Honeywell, encouraged his wife to return to her undergraduate studies. She continued on to law school and had two more children by the time she graduated fourth in her class of 83 students at William Mitchell in June 1970.
She went straight into courtroom legal work at the office of state Public Defender C. Paul Jones, where she was known as one of the “Jones girls” along with future Hennepin County Chief Judge Roberta Levy and state Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Wahl.
Huspeni joined the law faculty at the University of Minnesota in 1973 and taught at William Mitchell and Hamline during her career.
In 1974, she shifted toward the bench when she became a referee in Family Court. Gov. Al Quie appointed her to the municipal bench in 1980. Gov. Rudy Perpich appointed her to the Court of Appeals in 1984. She faced mandatory retirement in 1998 when she was 70 but continued to handle cases on senior status for nearly two decades.
Her contemporary on the bench, retired state Supreme Court Justice Esther Tomljanovich, said Huspeni was in the first generation of women hired for courtroom as opposed to clerical work immediately out of law school. She was “much-loved” by court staff, Tomljanovich said.
“Women early on thought you had to have sharp elbows and push people out of the way. She was never like that,” Tomljanovich said. “Her real legacy was in showing [that]civility, kindness and gentleness along with extraordinary abilities could be a recipe for success.”
In October 1988, Huspeni wrote for the Court of Appeals that a 17-year-old Rochester boy accused in the ax murders of his parents and two younger siblings could stand trial as an adult. “We are convinced that the Legislature intended … to ensure that the criminal justice system would not be permitted to provide an excessively minimal response to an offense which had a major impact upon society,” Huspeni wrote. The decision overturned a ruling from Olmsted County that said David Brom would be tried as a juvenile. Brom was convicted as an adult and remains in prison. Had he been convicted as a juvenile, he could have been freed on his 19th birthday.
Huspeni was preceded in death by her husband. In addition to Todd, she is survived by four children: Paul of Dallas; Jeff of Denver; Mark of Chisago City, and Laura Maus of Fridley. She is also survived by her sister Judy of Columbus, Ga., and several grandchildren. Services have been held.