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Legal learning: A bit about Judge Cuzzo

In November, 2010, Michael Cuzzo was elected district court judge in the 6th Judicial District. The 6th District covers the Arrowhead region of Minnesota - Cook, Lake, St. Louis, and Carlton Counties. A majority of the voters (61percent) in Cook County and Lake County voted for the other candidate, Tim Costley. But Cuzzo got over 60 percent of the votes throughout the district, and won the election. Now he is the trial court judge assigned to Cook County and Lake County. Who is he?

Michael Cuzzo grew up in Duluth, and graduated from Denfeld High School and UMD (1980). He then attended the U of M Law School and graduated with honors in 1983.

During his career as a lawyer, Cuzzo represented injured people. He was president of the Duluth Trial Lawyers Association and a member of Minnesota Association for Justice. He was selected as a Super Lawyer every year since 2003, and in 2009 he was named by Minnesota Law & Politics magazine as one of the state's Top 40 workers' compensation lawyers.

During his years practicing law, Cuzzo was active in numerous community activities. He was on the board of the YMCA, the Family of God Lutheran Church, and the Duluth Community Chaplaincy. He also served as a coach and a judge for high school and college Mock Trials.

Being what he calls a pretty good fisherman, Judge Cuzzo spends a lot of time (with wife Diana and son Alex) at their cabin on the Caribou trail. He says he likes hunting, camping, and anything outdoors. He also likes getting up early. When I interviewed him early one morning, he had been at his office in Two Harbors since 6:30 a.m. Besides judging cases, he meets often with social workers, probation officers, and others to improve justice for children and child protection services. He also gets prosecutors and defense attorneys together for lunch to discuss improvements in handling criminal cases.

When Cuzzo ran for judge in 2010, he said this: "The question of how someone is treated in my court will not be one of color, status, culture, or connections. Decisions will be based upon the law, facts, and individual circumstances surrounding each case. I have been proud to represent people with diverse backgrounds, and will continue to treat all with respect."

I asked him how he gets along with the seven lawyers who ran against him in the 2010 primary election (he came in first with 36% of the vote). He replied that he works well with all of them, and they treat each other with mutual respect. In fact, he says his door is open to everyone in the courthouse.

"I will listen to groups that have suggestions to offer on how to improve the justice system, including the juvenile justice system," he said.

So if you have any suggestions, drop Judge Cuzzo a line at Lake County Courthouse, 601 Third Ave., Two Harbors, MN 55616.

James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate and was named one of Minnesota's Top Ten Attorneys. He now handles family law, wills and probate in and around Silver Bay, and does mediation everywhere.