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Detroit Lakes native appointed as 9th District Court judge

Attorney Erik Askegaard smiled after Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed him to a Ninth Judicial District judgeship Oct. 19 during a news conference at the Crow Wing County Judicial Center in Brainerd. Askegaard will be sworn in Jan. 1 to replace retiring Judge John Leitner, who retired in May.

Though he's only an occasional visitor now, Erik Askegaard has very fond memories of the community that he still considers his hometown.

"My family moved to Detroit Lakes when I was 3 years old," says Askegaard, 49, a longtime Brainerd attorney who will become Crow Wing County's newest district court judge on Jan. 4.

"It's a town I still miss very much. It was a wonderful place to be a kid in the 1970s."

He and his family try to get back to the community at least once a month. While both his parents are deceased, Erik and his wife Joan (nee Bellefeuille, who is also a DL native) spend their time visiting her family as well as his stepmother, Juanita, with whom he remains close.

After graduating from Detroit Lakes High School, Askegaard went on to obtain a degree in business administration from the University of North Dakota in 1982.

After a year of working in both Minneapolis and Lincoln, Neb., he decided to return to UND and attend law school.

"Like a lot of young people, when I was 21-22 I had some difficulty deciding on a career path," Askegaard explained.

After exploring his career options for a while, Askegaard came to the realization that being a lawyer was much like being a perpetual student -- "a student with a lot of homework."

"One thing I always felt confident about was my ability to be a good student," he said.

After spending some time in Minneapolis, Lincoln and Grand Forks, Askegaard also found that he preferred a quieter lifestyle.

"I wanted a job where I wouldn't need to move to the big city to find work," he said. "My goal was to end up in the lake country in Minnesota."

And so he did, though not right away. After graduating from UND's law school, Askegaard practiced law in the Fargo-Moorhead area for almost five years before he and his wife moved to Brainerd.

"I really enjoyed Fargo-Moorhead, but I was drawn to the lake country," he explained. "We started scouting around for a place where we could put down some roots, and that was Brainerd."

It was in Brainerd that the Askegaards' budding family would spend most of their formative years. Sons Garth, Gunnar and Gus, who are in 12th, 10th and 8th grade, respectively, have all grown up and attended school there.

Askegaard has truly enjoyed his 23 years of practicing law, but is also quite excited by the prospect of his new career as a district court judge in Crow Wing County.

"It's not often that a person gets the chance to do something completely different," he said. "I've been in the career of law for 23 years, and now I get to do something completely different...make a difference on a broader scale."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Askegaard's appointment on Monday, Oct. 19 -- not quite 24 hours after making the call to Askegaard to let him know he'd been chosen.

Though he knew he was qualified for the post, Askegaard admitted he was "a little surprised" to get the call.

"I was one of three finalists for the position," said Askegaard, who will replace the retiring Judge John Leitner. "I thought the other two candidates would have been very good picks."

While Askegaard is "very excited" by the appointment, his family is also enjoying the process.

"It's been good for them to see me go through it," he said. "I'm starting a new job in January, and no matter how well you've prepared, a lot of it is going to be new."

Askegaard feels his oldest son, Garth, who is planning to head off to college next year, will benefit from seeing how well he adjusts to his new surroundings.

He will be sworn in as an Eighth District Court judge on Jan. 4. Between now and then, Askegaard will be busy shutting down his practice (his partner, Chris Robinson, will be opening his own practice), as well as boning up on what he needs to know for his new job.

"I'm winding down this practice -- I hope to have all that wrapped up by the first week of December or so," Askegaard said.

"Then I'll spend the rest of the time immersing myself in areas of the law I haven't dealt with much in the last 23 years. I'm looking forward to it."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454