New to the Bench: Hon. Martha Holton Dimick
Saturday, September 1, 2012
by: Joy R. Anderson
Judge Martha Holton Dimick
Ms. Anderson is an associate at Gray Plant Mooty in the Business & General Litigation Group. Her litigation practice covers a wide variety of subject matters, including trademarks, financial services, and trusts and estates.
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Judge Martha Holton Dimick
1991 J.D., Marquette University Law School
1981 B.S.N., Alverno College
2009-2012 Deputy City Attorney, Criminal Division, City of Minneapolis
2005-Present Adjunct Professor, Advice & Persuasion Program, William Mitchell College of Law
1999-2008 Assistant Hennepin County Attorney, Adult Prosecution Violent Crimes Division
1995-1999 Associate, Gray Plant Mooty
1991-1995 Associate, Mackall, Crounse & Moore
When Judge Martha Holton Dimick was growing up, she never imagined she would become a judge. As a girl from Milwaukee’s inner city in the ’60s, she simply didn’t consider that an option. “I never thought I would be a judge. I never even thought I could go to law school,” she said.
But, after a first career in nursing, Holton Dimick returned to school for her law degree. Now, after spending time in private practice, as an Assistant County Attorney for Hennepin County, and a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Minneapolis, Holton Dimick has been appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton as a district court judge for Hennepin County. She is enthusiastic about returning to the courtroom after serving as a supervisor in her previous job. She believes the position will give her an opportunity to help people in ways she was unable to do as an attorney. “I hoped I could address issues of under-represented and underprivileged communities,” she said. “Because of my personal background, I thought I would have some insight into some of the issues they’re facing.”
Judge Holton Dimick grew up in Milwaukee, one of nine children. Her father was a lawyer with a general practice, and her parents placed a great emphasis on getting an education. “While everyone else was out marching and protesting with the Civil Rights Movement, we were told we had to go to school—and we were frequently the only ones in school,” she said. Holton Dimick worked as a nursing assistant and then became a nurse, after graduating from high school without ever considering the law as a career. “Very few women were going to medical school or law school; they became teachers or nurses,” she said. She began working at Family Hospital in Milwaukee, first in a post-surgical care unit, then in an orthopedic unit, and finally in the hospital’s recovery room. As a single mother with a daughter to support, she continued to work while earning her bachelor of science degree. Later she took on a second job; first as a supervisor at a nursing home, and later as a home care nurse.
After 14 years in nursing, however, Holton Dimick began to think she was ready for a change to something new and challenging. Knowing she would need an advanced degree to further her career in nursing, she considered law school for the first time. She was accepted at Marquette University Law School, and began classes, planning to join her father’s practice when she graduated.
Judge Holton Dimick continued to work in nursing part-time to support herself and her daughter, who was then in high school. With the pressures of work and family added to the ordinary strains of reading and exams, her three years at law school were far from pleasant. “When I look back, I think, ‘How did I ever I get through it?’” she said. She graduated in 1991, one of only three African-American women in her class. Her father, graduating a generation earlier, had been one of only three African-American men in his class.
By the time she graduated, her father’s poor health meant that joining his practice was not an option. Instead, Holton Dimick accepted a position with the mid-sized Minneapolis firm of Mackall, Crounse, & Moore. One of Holton Dimick’s sisters lived in Minneapolis at the time, so she was familiar with the city. “I loved the city, loved the lakes, and I was used to the winters,” she said. She worked in the firm’s litigation department for almost four years, focusing on family law, workers’ compensation, and personal injury cases.
In 1995, Holton Dimick accepted an associate position at Gray Plant Mooty, following a couple of Mackall attorneys who had made the same move earlier. She stayed more than four years, practicing in general civil and business litigation.
What Holton Dimick really wanted, was more time in a courtroom than she would get in civil practice. She applied for a position at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, and, in 1999, became the first community prosecutor in North Minneapolis, where she lived at the time. She was first assigned to work with police officers and community members while prosecuting property and livability offenses in the precinct. She loved the job and the connections she formed in the community so much that when she was offered a transfer to the Adult Prosecution Violent Crimes Division, she was reluctant to go. “I didn’t want to leave my colleagues because the property unit was such a finely tuned unit within the office,” she said.
But Holton Dimick quickly grew to enjoy her new position. The Violent Crimes Division offered her a chance to work on a larger variety of more challenging cases. Among other things, she developed an expertise in drug- and alcohol-induced sexual assault cases. Because date rape drugs, like GHB, pass through a victim’s system quickly—usually before the victim reports the assault—a prosecutor cannot present a jury with a toxicology test showing the victim was drugged. Instead, Holton Dimick worked with an expert who could testify that a victim’s conduct was consistent with the behavior of someone under the influence of a date rape drug. “The use of an expert had a huge impact on the outcome of some cases,” she said.
One of Holton Dimick’s favorite parts of the job was all the courtroom time that came with it. She had as many as ten trials in some years. Once, she had back to back trials, where she walked out of one courtroom after closing arguments only to go straight into another. Unfortunately, the abrupt change caused her to say the wrong defendant’s name in her opening statement. “I said, ‘Excuse me, I think I need to start over,’” she said. She got it right the second time, and the case ended in a conviction.
In 2009, Holton Dimick moved to the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, becoming a Deputy City Attorney in the Criminal Division, which prosecutes misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, petty misdemeanors, and traffic offenses committed in the city. In her new position, for the first time, she was supervising other attorneys instead of actively practicing. Holton Dimick missed the courtroom, but found she enjoyed the different challenges of the City Attorney’s Office. She is particularly proud of the work done by the community prosecution program, which placed a prosecutor in each of Minneapolis’s police precincts to train and work with police officers and form relationships with members of the community.
Throughout her years in practice, Holton Dimick has also been extremely active in legal and community activities. Among other involvements, she has been chair of the Council on Black Minnesotans and a board member for Minnesota Women Lawyers and Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN). She has taken numerous pro bono family law cases through VLN and the Harriet Tubman Center. She has been active in developing a neighborhood watch in the North Minneapolis neighborhood where she and her husband live. And, for the past seven years, Holton Dimick has been an adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law, teaching the negotiations portion of the legal writing and skills course for first year students. She considers teaching to be her “relaxation job,” she said. “The experience is just phenomenal; the students are so eager to learn.”
One experience that will be particularly useful as Holton Dimick takes the bench is her tenure as chair of the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards, the independent state agency that reviews complaints against Minnesota judges for misconduct. By listening to the complaints, Holton Dimick learned that sometimes, for a judge, the less said the better. “Many of the complaints were over a particular judge’s demeanor in the courtroom, making inappropriate comments to people,” she said.
As she begins her tenure as a judge, Holton Dimick believes her other life experiences may be even more valuable than the lessons she learned while at the Board on Judicial Standards. As a prosecutor, she learned not to take herself too seriously, a lesson she hopes she will remember when presiding over a courtroom. As a nurse, she learned to help people facing some of their most challenging moments, and as a judge, she will need to use those skills again. Holton Dimick’s unique career path has taught her how important it is to people to feel that they have been heard. “When people were talking to me and telling me their stories, they knew I was listening, and they always appreciated it. That’s something I want to bring with me to the bench,” she said.