Who was Sally Tarnowski? Beloved judge, 63, dies after being hit by car while out jogging
VENICE, FLORIDA: A Minnesota judge who was known as a mental health champion and adored by her peers tragically died after she was hit by a car while out for a run on her holiday in Florida. Judge Sally Tarnowski died on Monday, March 6, her loved ones revealed.
The 63-year-old had served as a judge in Minnesota's St. Louis County since 2007 and rose to the position of chief judge of Minnesota's Sixth Judicial District in 2016 under Governor Tim Pawlenty. Tarnowski spearheaded the state's 'Mental Health Court' which was designed to sentence people with psychological issues to treatment instead of prison time. She had heard cases just last week before heading south for her vacation. She was reportedly scheduled to hear out cases upon returning from Venice, and her term as county judge was to last until 2027.
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Beloved by all
The popular judge was honored on Tuesday, March 7, with a moment of silence held inside her courtroom and a makeshift memorial set up on the steps. Tarnowski was beloved by everyone around her. Public defender Veronica Surges, who faced off with the late judge on multiple occasions, reportedly received a call from a client who had been sentenced to prison in tears over her demise, per the Duluth News Tribune. "As a passionate defense attorney, I often disagreed with her rulings in my cases," Surges said. "At the same time, I deeply respected her because I could tell how much she cared about the people in my courtroom — especially my most mentally ill clients." Meanwhile, another attorney told the Minneapolis Star Tribune how Tarnowski was friendly and a hard worker, often riding a bike to work in Minnesota's sub-zero temperatures. "Underneath her tough exterior, she was one of the nicest, most compassionate, and most patient people I have ever met," Surges added.
FOX 21 News at 5:30, remembering the life of Duluth Judge Sally Tarnowski who died yesterday in Florida. Hear from former St. Louis Co. Atty. Mark Rubin, a former colleague from when Tarnowski graduated law school, and a man who says the judge turned his life around. pic.twitter.com/7KmC9RIgr7— FOX 21 News (@KQDS_FOX21) March 7, 2023
'A massive loss'
Those close to her revealed she was contemplating retirement in 2025, albeit she was still working a full schedule at the time of her death. According to the Daily Mail, Minnesota will soon roll out what public defender Dan Lew called 'mental health court lite,' which will enable those who have committed lesser offenses to get the same help as those who have committed serious crimes. Tarnowski was also an early supporter of neutral evaluation in family court, which helps in quick dispute resolution with regard to custody, parenting time, and financial issues.
The judge was also lauded by local Native American leaders for her work on children going through the judicial system. "Her contributions to establishing the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Courtroom in St Louis County, which was emulated in courtrooms across the area, will always be a tremendous accomplishment," the board of the local Chippewa tribe said in a statement. "Her continued support for the equality of Native American families was unheralded and a massive loss for the 6th Judicial District."
Chief Judge Sally Tarnowski speaking about importance of mental health court in MN @lwvduluth equali-tea. pic.twitter.com/z2dQXBD5tQ— Jen Schultz for Congress MN08 (@RepJenSchultz) March 18, 2017
Tarnowski has two children, namely Katie and Ben, with her ex-husband Greg. St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin remembered her as a profoundly fair judge who enjoyed what she did. "If you appeared in front of her, you might not agree with the result, but you really respected the way she went about making her decision and the way she treated the defendant and the victims and everyone in the courtroom," Rubin said.