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New to the Bench: Hon. David Piper
Rebecca Vandenberg
Hennepin County District Court
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
by: Rebecca Vandenberg

Section: Spotlight/Profiles

Hon. David Piper

Ms. Vandenberg is a staff attorney at the Self Help Center in the Hennepin County Government Center. Prior to her current position, she worked as David Piper's law clerk when he was a family court referee.

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David Piper greets his new position as Hennepin County District Court judge with pride, excitement, and humility.  Having worked as a family court referee for the past several years, Piper embraces his role with a smile, characterizing it as an opportunity to continue working with the bench and serving the public in a new and challenging way.

Piper’s journey began at Whittier College where he majored in English and political science.  After graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in 1975, Piper attended Hamline Law School.  While in law school, Piper was involved in the student newspaper. As a research assistant to his family law professor, he studied a number of interesting right to privacy issues.  He graduated from Hamline Law School in 1979.

After graduating from law school, Piper worked for a year as a bailiff law clerk for the family court referees in Ramsey County.  While working as a clerk, Piper assisted domestic abuse victims with the-then newly enacted Order for Protection statute.  

Ready for a new challenge, Piper opened his own practice in 1980 and concentrated his practice on the specialty courts in Hennepin County.  He joined several panels, which enabled him to engage in the public practice of law as a privately contracted attorney.  Some of these panels included the commitment defense panel, the Hennepin County conflicts public defender panel, the juvenile conflicts public defender panel, the federal public defender panel, and the misdemeanor defense panel.  Throughout his practice, Piper represented a significant number of children, parents, and guardians ad litem in juvenile court and disadvantaged clients in probate court. He handled a number of Child in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) cases and served as a juvenile court guardian ad litem for a brief period of time. 

In 1990, when the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office discontinued providing representation in family court cases, Piper developed the family court public defender program and served as its first chief public defender.  Then, in 1995, Piper further built on this program by developing the family court public defender conflicts panel, where he also served as its first chief.  Both of these family court public defense programs still exist.

Piper was also influential in the formation of the Self Help Center, a resource made available by the court to assist self-represented parties as they navigate the court system.  He received a grant from the State of Minnesota to study how to work with pro se litigants.  The results of that study helped create the Self Help Center.

In 2000, Piper was appointed as a temporary family court referee in Hennepin County.  His appointment was made permanent in 2001.  While serving as a family court referee, Piper collaborated with Ramsey County Family Court Referee Earl Beddow to initiate a guardian ad litem program for incompetent adults in Hennepin County Family Court.  The program, which began in March 2010, consists of a panel of attorneys who volunteer to serve as guardians ad litem for adults who are involved in family court proceedings when there are concerns regarding their competency.

Prior to his appointment as referee, Piper worked as a child support magistrate, also in Hennepin County.  His wealth of family court experience is something Piper recognizes as a strength he brings to his new position, where he will continue to have to manage challenging caseloads and hectic calendars.

Piper was formally sworn-in as a Hennepin County District Court judge by Chief Judge James Swenson on June 16, 2011.  He has been temporarily assigned to family court.  Piper will receive a criminal block assignment this fall.  He is excited, challenged, and a bit nervous about the opportunity to explore a new practice area. 

For fun, Piper enjoys biking, skiing, and water sports.  He also enjoys camping, reading, listening to music, and watching movies.  Piper has been a member of the bench and bar book club for the last several years.  Additionally, he appreciates spending time with friends, family, and his rescue golden retriever.

Piper currently serves on the board of the Neighborhood Involvement Program and is a volunteer with the Minnesota AIDS Project, an organization in which he has been actively involved over the years.  He  also participates in the annual AIDS Walk.  Piper formerly served on the boards of Chrysalis, Twin Cities Public Television, the Headwaters Fund, and the Volunteer Lawyers Network.

Judge Piper prefers that attorneys appearing in front of him keep things as clear and brief as possible, depending upon the complexity of the case.   He greatly appreciates clarity in writing and speech, as well as brevity and the minimal use of “legalese.”   Piper’s adherence to these values creates a comfortable, yet respectful courtroom where parties, especially those who are self-represented, feel heard, understood, and ultimately empowered to meaningfully engage in the process. 

Judge Piper brings with him a history of, and commitment to, being a public servant.  He blends the seriousness of his work with a sense of humor that allows him to be relatable, approachable, and effective in managing his caseload and his courtroom.  His confidence from experience and a down-to-earth personality are among the many attributes Judge Piper brings to his new role as judge with Hennepin County District Court.

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