Judge's work on and off the bench contributes to a vibrant democracy

Renee Worke is no ordinary judge. With her characteristic wry sense of humor and modesty, she somewhat grudgingly accepts the title "citizen judge."

Like journalists, many judges feel they can't play a significant role in civic life because their professional code of ethics demands that they keep their political views or policy preferences to themselves. But there are many ways - beyond politics and advocacy - in which professionals can maintain a connection between their work and civic lives.

For Judge Worke, being a citizen judge means building relationships with people inside and outside the judiciary, something that gives her both energy and insight into her professional work. It also means satisfying her passion for women's leadership development, going beyond the requirements of her job to mentor other women lawyers and judges, and serving as a resource to young people like Samantha Rydzik, a recent University of Minnesota political science graduate who wanted career advice from a woman who has learned how to be successful in a male-dominated profession.

As a participant in the 2006 Humphrey Institute Policy Fellows leadership program, Judge Worke found ways to apply her knowledge of the courts and law to an issue that ordinarily would not be on her radar screen: veterans reintegration. "It's hard to say what was most satisfying about my work with other Policy Fellows," says Worke. "To have an impact on an important policy area or the opportunity to do this work with people of different backgrounds, including students, representatives of the Minnesota National Guard, and legislators." Their research and action later grew into the statewide Warrior to Citizen Campaign, with which Worke remains involved. (See the article she co-authored with state Senator Tarryl Clark in the February edition of the Minnesota Journal.)

Democracy is the work of the people, and citizen professionals like Renee Worke are making impressive contributions by changing the way we see ourselves in relation to each other, our work lives, and communities.

Today, Judge Worke will be one of four Minnesotans honored by the Ann Bancroft Foundation with a 2008 DreamMaker Award for her accomplishments, leadership, and role in encouraging the achievement of girls and women.

For more about the concept of citizen professionals, read Albert Dzur's new book Democratic Professionalism: Citizen Participation and the Reconstruction of Professional Ethics, Identity and Practice (Penn State Press, 2008).

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs