After 16 years on the bench, St. Louis County District Judge Shaun Floerke is stepping down to take over the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

Floerke will start Jan. 11 as president and CEO of the philanthropy organization, which has an endowment of more than $80 million.

The 55-year-old judge was appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2004 and has won three elections since. During his tenure in Duluth, Floerke has experimented with new approaches to cases involving substance abuse and mental illness, such as the South St. Louis County DWI Court that has been nationally recognized for boosting treatment rates.

At a news conference Tuesday, Floerke said he sees the role as a chance to proactively address some of the issues that have landed folks in his courtroom.

"Justice doesn't live in a courthouse," Floerke said. "I think every bit that this foundation does is about justice in our community."

Floerke will replace Holly Sampson, who retired in June after serving at the foundation's helm for 30 years. David Kropid, chairman of the foundation's board of trustees, called Sampson "a legend" who grew the fund's endowment by $75 million.

"Since becoming a judge, Shaun has been a problem solver," Kropid said, adding: "He understands the area's needs and the area's strengths."

The Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, which supports scholarships, economic development, arts, human services and more, was formed in 1983 as the region's population and economy were in decline. Since then, the nonprofit has distributed more than $60 million in grants.

Floerke said the COVID-19 pandemic has given the foundation an opportunity to examine the region's systems and safety nets.