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New to the Bench: Judge Jay Quam
Marian Saksena
Thursday, April 19, 2007
by: Marian Saksena

Section: Spotlight/Profiles

Judge Jay Quam

Marian Saksena, Contributing Author. Ms. Saksena is an attorney in the Minneapolis law firm of Walling, Berg & Debele, PA, where she practices juvenile, adoption, and family law in district, tribal, and appellate courts.

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Jay Quam, age 44, was sworn in as a judge of the Fourth Judicial District on Oct. 2, 2006.  In announcing the appointment, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said, “Jay has been able to balance a professional career as a well-respected litigator with a private-sector law firm with an impressive amount of volunteer legal work helping the less fortunate.  He will bring an incredible amount of intellect, energy, and compassion to the position.”

Judge Quam grew up in Detroit Lakes, Minn.  His father, John Quam, was an attorney, and he inspired Jay and his younger brother, Steven, to join the legal profession.  While a senior at Moorhead State University, where he majored in political science and psychology, Quam applied for admission to the University of Minnesota School of Law.  He was accepted but decided to defer matriculation for one year.  During this year, Quam’s endeavors included a four-month stint working on a dairy farm in Norway, where he milked cows and cut down trees.  Unwavering in his ultimate interest in the legal profession, Quam traded his milking pail for a study carrel in the fall of 1985, when he became a 1L at the University of Minnesota Law School.

After graduating from law school in 1988, Quam joined the law firm of Fredrikson & Byron, P.A., where he practiced for 18 years.  Quam enjoyed a broad general litigation practice, encompassing both large and small civil disputes.  In addition to civil litigation, Quam handled criminal defense cases.  Through his significant pro bono work, Quam also gained experience representing clients in family, juvenile, housing, and other types of cases.  At Quam’s swearing-in ceremony, John Koneck, president of Fredrikson & Byron, praised Quam for being the type of attorney who truly cares about each client.  This sentiment was echoed by Jim Dorsey, a shareholder at the firm who also remarked on Quam’s “outstanding ability to relate to and communicate with a broad variety of people.” 

“Jay has been a leader both in the firm and in our community in promoting pro bono and public service generally,” noted Jim Baillie, a shareholder at Fredrikson & Byron, and past president of the HCBA and MSBA.  Throughout his career as an attorney, Quam devoted significant time to providing pro bono legal services, averaging about 150 hours per year over the past decade.  Specifically, Quam provided pro bono services to low-income individuals through his firm’s pro bono program, as well as through Volunteer Lawyers Network, Legal Access Point, Catholic Charities/Branch III Homeless Shelter, and North Vista (an alternative school for pregnant or parenting teens).  Baillie emphasized that Quam’s personal commitment to pro bono work “not only illustrates the breadth of his background and his willingness and ability to work with people of all backgrounds, but it especially shows his commitment to equal justice and to improving our judicial system.”

Yet Quam’s “compassion went beyond providing direct pro bono services to people of limited means,” observed Pamela Wandzel, the pro bono/community service coordinator at Fredrikson & Byron.  Quam inspired others to get involved and leveraged community resources to provide opportunities for more lawyers and law students to provide pro bono services.  Quam “was the one who conceived the idea of using summer clerks for pro bono work and he carried that through the Supreme Court process to allow their temporary admission to practice for pro bono cases” under the Student Practice Rule, according to Baillie.  Wandzel noted that Quam was “instrumental in formalizing and formulating our pro bono program.”  Additionally, Quam launched the summer associate program/student attorney program for the Volunteer Lawyers Network, served on the board of directors for Volunteer Lawyers Network as well as Central Minnesota Legal Services, and helped establish the Minnesota Justice Foundation Partner Program.  In recognition of his extraordinary commitment to pro bono service, Quam received the Minnesota Justice Foundation Outstanding Service Award for attorneys in private practice in 2001 and the Fredrikson & Byron Distinguished Service Award in 2003. 

Quam’s devotion to community service also includes a long-standing interest in mentoring young people.  He coached Moundsview High School’s mock trial team for over 16 years and worked with young people at North Vista, The City, Inc., and Young Life.  Wandzel praised Quam for his significant help with raising funds for Friends of Fredrikson, an employee-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission of promoting the education of disadvantaged children in public schools and providing food, clothing, and other support to low-income families and children.  In 2004, Quam suggested a new way to raise funds for Friends of Fredrikson: an annual Friends of Fredrikson Bike ’n’ Hike to raise money to send disadvantaged school children to academic summer camps.  Quam, who bikes to work in downtown Minneapolis from his home in Eden Prairie, received support for his idea from fellow biking enthusiasts and non-bikers alike.  As a result, Quam’s colleagues and their family members have participated in the annual Friends of Fredrikson Bike ’n’ Hike and raised the funds to enable dozens of elementary school children from the Whittier School in south Minneapolis to attend Camp Chi Rho.

Robert Boisvert, a shareholder at Fredrikson & Byron who has known Quam for 17 years, shared the following assessment with the Commission on Judicial Selection: “He cares deeply about others, is generous, enthusiastic, and hardworking, and has an abiding commitment to friends, colleagues, clients, and the community.  Jay’s helpful nature, coupled with his likeable and friendly personality and unflappable demeanor, would make him a respectful and respected jurist.”

Family is also extremely important to Quam.  Quam is married to Kristi Carlson, who is also an attorney.  Quam and Carlson have two children: Annika, age 7, and Erik, age 3.  Quam is close to his parents, John and Mary Quam, and his two brothers, Steven Quam, who is a shareholder at Fredrikson & Byron, and Jeff Quam, who lives near Detroit Lakes. 

Now in his first year as a judge, Quam is assigned to the criminal court calendar.  Prior to this assignment, Quam did manual labor through the Sentence to Serve program and spent a night in a cell block at the county workhouse, knowing that these were two of the dispositions he would soon have to consider imposing at criminal sentencing hearings.

Quam recalls that when he received the telephone call from Governor Pawlenty informing him of the judicial appointment, he felt like his “life’s dream had been realized.”  But as the time grew closer to the swearing-in ceremony, Quam says that he began to recognize that his life’s dream was not as much about becoming a judge, but what he would actually do as a judge.  Likewise, while the flurry of accolades was much appreciated and humbling, Quam realizes that what others will eventually conclude about his service as a judge in 10 or 20 years is what will really matter.  If “what is past is prologue,” as Shakespeare put it, then the judiciary and citizens of Hennepin County will undoubtedly be well served by Judge Quam’s legal acumen, creativity, and compassion in the coming years. 




1988:   J.D., University of Minnesota School of Law

1984:   B.A., Moorhead State University


2006:   Judge, Hennepin County District Court

2005-present:   Adjunct Professor, St. Thomas School of Law

2005-2006:   Judge, Conciliation Court

1996-2006:   Shareholder, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.

1988-1996:   Associate, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.


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