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New to the Bench: Judge Karen Janisch
Marlene Garvis
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
by: Marlene Garvis

Section: Spotlight/Profiles

Judge Karen Janisch

Marlene Garvis, Contributing Author. Ms. Garvis is a partner at Jardine, Logan and O’Brien. She focuses her practice on employment, product liability and healthcare. Garvis is a past president of the HCBA, and an adjunct faculty member of the University of Minnesota School of Nursing and the Hamline University School of Law.

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Judge Karen Janisch has been on the bench for just six months. She is having fun, and admits she is still learning. 


Janisch completed intense training—referred to as judicial “ride-a-longs”—to become familiar with her new role as a judge. In her first 30 days, she shadowed judges in Drug Court, Mental Health Court, and Misdemeanor Court.  She also sat with a judge who presided over a felony trial.  These experiences showed her different approaches to the bench. 


“Having a bench as deep as the Hennepin County bench is a luxury I don’t think new judges have in a lot of other counties,” said Janisch. “To get a broad look at the system firsthand before you start doing it is really helpful.”


Janisch is now developing her own style, and is fortunate to have the Hon. Jeannice Reding as her mentor to guide her along the way. Janisch is on a general criminal assignment for her first year.


“All crime, all the time,” said Janisch, “it’s a good assignment to have.”


She presides over all stages of misdemeanor criminal cases, and specially assigned felony cases. She has enjoyed getting to know, and working with, the criminal law attorneys. 


Prior to her appointment by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Janisch worked in his office as general counsel from 2003 to 2009. In this position, she provided the governor with legal advice on any issue that came across his desk or was part of the operation of the governor’s office. This could involve matters concerning the governor’s emergency response powers, executive order authority, legal issues surrounding pandemic flu planning, data practices and recordkeeping practices, compliance with ethical standards, office policies and procedures, review of proposed legislation, bill review and veto procedures, or the governor’s initiatives and executive orders. Janisch also served as the liaison between the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office on legal issues impacting the governor’s office or other state agencies.


As general counsel, one of the most rewarding experiences for Janisch was working on a case the tobacco companies brought against the state asserting that increasing the fee on cigarettes violated Minnesota’s tobacco settlement agreement. She argued in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court as an amicus on behalf of the governor. The day after her arguments the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran a panoramic photo of Janisch at the podium in front of all seven justices.  Her back was to the camera, but it was clear it was Janisch. “Everybody else who argued was male, so they probably wouldn’t have been wearing a long skirt,” said Janisch. “I hadn’t worked on anything previously that was so high profile.”


Janisch grew up in Burnsville and went to Burnsville Senior High School. She is the only person in her family to become a lawyer. Her father is an electrical engineer, her mother a registered nurse. Her siblings chose vocations in science, graphic arts, and janitorial services. Her parents have always been supportive of her and her siblings’ accomplishments. Janisch also has an appreciation for persons with disabilities and mental illness, as she has family members who have addressed these challenges.


Janisch majored in government at the College of St. Benedict, graduating cum laude in 1987. After graduation, she sold mini-donut machines for two years with a Minnesota-based company called Lil’ Orbits. This job gave her the opportunity to travel across the United States and Europe. Then looking long range, Janisch considered her options and decided law school would be a good fit.


“I’m not one of these people who grew up always saying, ‘I’m going to go to law school, that’s all I want to do,’” said Janisch. “My decision was a little bit more by default.”


She attended law school at the University of Minnesota where she excelled academically, was a member of the Wagner Moot Court, and graduated magna cum laude in 1992. 


After law school, Janisch clerked for Idaho Supreme Court Justice Byron J. Johnson, whom she describes as a fantastic judge.  Returning to Minnesota, Janisch joined the Rider Bennett law firm, where she specialized in education law. She often represented public school districts.


“People don’t go into education to get rich. They’re doing it because they actually believe in wanting to educate kids. So you have a group of clients who—for the most part—never really had ill motive, which was nice,” said Janisch. 


It was also at Rider Bennett where Janisch met Tim and Mary Pawlenty.  She and Mary shared an assistant, and their offices were next door to each other. 


“Out of the blue,” she said, Governor Pawlenty asked her if she would become his general counsel. Janisch was excited by the new opportunities this position would offer, but she was also concerned about her family situation: her husband, Dan Tschida, also a lawyer, had just left Leonard Street and Deinard to return to school and embark on a career in teaching. She accepted the offer and the Janisch-Tschida family managed this transition well. Dan completed his program in 2004 and is now a tenured teacher at Columbia Heights High School. Janisch served as general counsel for the governor until she was appointed to the bench in January of this year.


For Janisch, the most difficult part of her latest role change is transitioning from an adversarial to a neutral decision-making role.  She no longer has a client, which presents a major shift in thinking. Still, Janisch says she will not miss litigating.


“I had six years in the governor’s office to get over ‘missing’ litigation,” said Janisch.  “It is really interesting and rewarding to see a different type of litigation, criminal litigation. It’s just that now you see it from a different perspective and you have a different role.”

Janisch sees her responsibility as a trial court judge to guard the legal process, apply the law to the facts of a case, and protect the rights of those who appear before her. Janisch is enthusiastic about her work as the decision maker, although she readily admits that she does not presume to always be the expert.  She expects the attorneys who appear before her to be prepared and respectful; she has the same expectation for herself. Janisch believes that attorneys should be allowed the opportunity to put their cases forward on their theories and that the court, to the extent appropriate under the governing rules of procedure and evidence, should be respectful of allowing the attorneys to present their cases. Her ideals and goals will guide her judicial actions. Attorneys should look forward to appearing before Judge Janisch.  






1992:  J.D., University of Minnesota Law School, magna cum laude

1987:  B.A., College of St. Benedict



2003-2009:  General counsel to Gov. Tim Pawlenty

1999-2003:  Partner, Rider Bennett Egan and Arundel

1993-1998:  Associate attorney, Rider Bennett Egan and Arundel

1992-1993:  Judicial law clerk to Idaho State Supreme Court Justice Byron J. Johnson

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