As the first female judge in Dakota County and the surrounding six counties of the 1st Judicial District, Leslie Metzen has had to tread a fine line of impartiality, forcing her to stop short of calling herself a social advocate, a women's advocate or an advocate for anything at all beyond blind justice.
That's about to change for one of the county's longest-serving judges.
In May, Metzen will lay down her gavel after almost 23 years on the bench and join the staff of the Community Action Council, a nonprofit human services agency in Burnsville.
Early on in her judicial career, Metzen committed her first faux pas, and a visible one, at that.
Metzen joined a court task force that had her rubbing elbows with prosecutors, defense attorneys and cops, trying to figure out a better way to handle cases of domestic abuse.
Many of her robed mentors were unimpressed that a fellow judge would step across the invisible line of the law and problem-solve with the same people who might appear before her in court. In fact, they seemed almost offended.
"I took a fair amount of criticism from my male colleagues, who thought it was improper," said Metzen, who was appointed to the bench in 1986 by then-Gov. Rudy Perpich, at the relatively youthful age of 37.
But history was on her side.
"As it turned out, a few years later, the chief justice for the Supreme Court mandated that every judicial district have a task force to look at how we handle domestic abuse
Maybe we need to teach men and boys how to have healthy relationships in their lives, and I don't think we're doing that now in our communities."
Metzen's legal résumé includes a stint from 1999 to 2001 as the first female chair of the Conference of Chief Judges, which was then the policy-making group for district courts statewide. Her fellow judges elected her chief judge for the 1st Judicial District in 1997 and again in 1999.
In 2002, she established a community "housing court" for South St. Paul, West St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights homeowners accused of property code violations. In her six years with the court, she ordered one defendant held behind bars — an 88-year-old South St. Paul man who served four days in jail after missing several court dates and refusing to clean up his back yard.
The court closed last year after Metzen joined Dakota County's new drug court, which offers repeat offenders intense supervision and a range of incentives to stay clean.
She also has been active in restorative justice efforts, in which a defendant must meet with a victim in person to apologize and explain himself.
Metzen is married to David Metzen, a retired superintendent of the South St. Paul school district, who currently serves on the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents. His brothers are Minnesota Senate President James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, and Thomas Metzen, president of Metzen Realty and a figure in Minnesota horse racing.
Advisory Committee report shows in 2000, a string link between child abuse and domestic violence in Dakota County. Their findins, poor record-keeping, minimal contact among criminal justice agencies, untrained staff members and very little court-ordered treatment, are all factors that allow offenders to abuse again and again; and lack of follow-up in family court.