You may recall the February 2020 issue of Attorney at Law Magazine Minnesota presented a pair of articles addressing legal black history in MN. The first piece, “Legal Diversity: 30 Years in the Trenches” was authored by then private practice attorney Jerry W. Blackwell. The other, “Bending Toward Justice: The Black Experience in the Minnesota Judiciary” was written by Ramsey County District Court Judge JaPaul J. Harris. These were written, of course, just before COVID-19 had an impact in Minnesota.
Three years later, on December 21, 2022, Chief Judge Patrick Schiltz administered the oath of office to Judge Jerry W. Blackwell in his courtroom on the 15th floor of the Diana E. Murphy Federal Courthouse. Judge Blackwell made very brief remarks, and a small reception followed this private ceremony. Formal public investiture ceremony details have not been set yet by the courts as of our press deadline.
Judge Blackwell has since spent many hours in orientation. He’s slated for a two-day Federal Judicial Center training, referred to as “baby judge school.” Per Judge Schiltz, Judge Blackwell has had over 200 civil cases transferred to him from other active judges, selected randomly by the Clerk’s Office. Though criminal cases are not transferred to new judges, Judge Blackwell will receive his share of new cases as grand juries issue indictments.
In the three years that have passed since Blackwell penned “Legal Diversity: 30 Years in the Trenches,” he has been involved in several high-profile activities. He was instrumental in securing pro bono the first posthumous pardon in MN history for Max Mason, a Black traveling circus worker wrongfully convicted of raping a White woman in 1920. Mason’s co-workers, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Issac McGhie were lynched by a mob of around 10,000 in Duluth. Blackwell also served pro bono as a lead special assistant attorney general in the successful prosecution of former Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. Now, the very successful firm he co-founded in 2006 with Martin “Skip” Burke (deceased, January 2016) is dissolved. A final note of “thank you” was posted last on the firm’s website.
Judge Blackwell is now part of “our legal profession’s groundbreaking in diversity – its ‘firsts.’” He is an additional success marker now of his “Years in the Trenches” (technically, nearing 35 years, having received his J.D. in 1987 from the University of North Carolina School of Law, and beginning his career at Robins Kaplan LLP).
May I have the good fortune to someday soon “call and have lunch with living history” (Judge Blackwell), as he continues to serve the Federal District of Minnesota. CONGRATULATIONS Judge Blackwell!