Retired local judge honored as ‘faithful servant’ of law

Categories: Around the Diocese


Judge Elizabeth Hayden

Elizabeth Hayden, a College of St. Benedict alumna and retired district court judge, received the Fidelis Apparitor Award Nov. 14. The award, which means “faithful servant,” is given to individuals who have been good and faithful servants of the law.

Hayden, a member of St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, received the honor at a reception following the 14th annual College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University Red Mass at the Sacred Heart Chapel of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph. Hayden served in Minnesota’s Seventh Judicial District for 24 years.

Q: In 2002, you were instrumental in founding the Red Mass at CSB/SJU, which celebrates the work of judges, attorneys, students of law, policy-makers and civic leaders. Why was this something you wanted to initiate?

Judge Hayden: The Red Mass is an old English tradition. The purpose of the Mass was to open the court season, which happens each fall. It is called the Red Mass because members of the judiciary, the clergy and the government would wear red robes to this Mass. The purpose of coming together in a Mass setting is to pray for the guidance borne of wisdom, integrity and insight and whatever those values are that each of us needs in order to do our job well.

The more I learned about the Red Mass, the more I thought we needed one here. We all need to ask for guidance to do what is right — not only to be just, but to do it with compassion, for all the right reasons and to be respectful in doing it.

Q: You were the first CSB alumna appointed to the bench. What inspired your law career?

Judge Hayden: When I graduated from St. Ben’s in 1968, I graduated with a degree in social work. In retrospect, it was an accidental genius move. Being on the bench is a lot like helping people with their everyday problems. I went into social work because I wanted to make a difference. As a social worker, every time I got a promotion, I got farther away from clients. I became a supervisor and then worked in rules and regulations. I happened to be a witness in a case in which I had to make a recommendation on behalf of a committee to the commissioner of public welfare. The commissioner’s decision was then challenged which made me the state’s star witness. On the stand, the attorney representing the appellant was cross-examining me. He was blustering and intimidating and all the things you see on TV. And I thought to myself, “I could do that job but I would do it better because I would do my homework.” And that was the moment I decided to go to law school.

When I was appointed to the bench by Gov. Rudy Perpich in 1986, I thought naively that I was going to write learned legal opinions like you always hear about in literature and history. Well, those were few and far between. The real job was rolling up my sleeves and helping everyday people with everyday problems — giving lectures to people who are misbehaving and getting into minor difficulty, hoping to help them turn the corner. So the social work background was a great experience to bring into the courtroom.

Q: As a mentor for law students at CSB and SJU, what are some of the values you try to instill in them?

Judge Hayden: One of the most valuable things a person has is their reputation. The values that make up your reputation are integrity, the willingness to listen because it is a show of caring, and a lot of patience. It takes a lot of a patience to listen to the situations with which a judge is confronted.

I was born into and grew up in a good family with good values and opportunities, having nothing to do with money, but having to do with love and security. Not everybody is fortunate to have lived that way and a lot of those people have appeared before me in court. I try to remember that and remind students to be conscious of that misfortune.

When I mentor students, I get excited all over again, watching them going off to pursue a career in the law, because I love the law. I thought I can learn so much from it, from precedent, from history. I tell them not to be known as the heavy hand of the law but to apply the law fairly and with compassion and respect.

Q: This year, you are the recipient of the Fidelis Apparitor — or “faithful servant” — award, which is bestowed on individuals who have been good and faithful servants of the law. In your work as a district court judge, how did your faith guide you?

Judge Hayden: My faith matured while I was in college, and the basis for that was my Benedictine education. The Rule of Benedict made sense to me. It addressed every aspect of life that I could think of. There was guidance in it. It helped me really look at people and believe “there but by the grace of God.” It helped me be less judgmental and look at the whole person, not just at what they did, and to try to find the resources, the consequences or the words that might help them make changes. I spoke personally to every defendant who came before me because I thought that was my job.

The Benedictine Rule is the book I really need to live by. One of the most important precepts that I take from that is that of respect: respect for one’s self, for others, for property. That means not involving oneself in self destructive behaviors, all those kinds of things that sabotage our success in life. We are God’s creations.

Then to have respect for others, avoid unnecessary conflict, avoid nasty behaviors that trigger violence, have respect for others who don’t believe as we do, others who have not had the advantages we have. People are suffering greatly in any number of ways. Cut people
slack not knowing what they are going through. Develop a long fuse. I also believe in respect for property. Anything that God created deserves our respect.

Q: The Minnesota Catholic bishops are coming together to take a stand against a culture of violence by implementing “A Day of Prayer and Fasting in Reparation for a Culture of Violence and Disrespect for Human Life” sometime in December or January.What concrete acts can people make in their ownlives to battle this “culture of violence”?

Judge Hayden: I think if we would make an effort to do positive things, if we would say hello to a person who is not at all like us, whether they are a person of color, a person of limited abilities, whether they are old, from a different religion, immigrants. If we could develop habits that help us see more civility and beyond civility, kindness, to bring a smile to someone’s face, that is contagious. I think if we are all honest with ourselves,
when we do something nice, it feels good. Without
any cost, if we can develop those habits, we can make a