By Emily Johns
It's a little bit confusing when Hennepin County District Judge Allen Oleisky talks about being retired.
Minnesota law says that judges need to retire on their 70th birthday, and Oleisky, the longest serving judge in the state, hit the benchmark last spring. Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared March 31, the Judge's last day, to be Allen Oleisky Day. That seems easy enough to understand.
But the picture gets murkier if you consider the fact that Oleisky, a 1960 history alumnus, talks about his retirement from behind a desk in the Hennepin County Government Center during a break from the day's drug court proceedings. He hands out a new business card and mentions that he's had two days off since retiring. Aren't all the days since retirement supposed to be "days off"?
"I still feel like I'm capable of working, so I'm working as a retired judge," he said, pointing out that retired judges can still work for the courts in certain capacities. "I want to stay real active. I still feel I can contribute. I'm not just a person that wants to play golf and do leisure-type things."
Oleisky arrived at the U in the fall of 1956 and declared a history major because "they made me choose something." But the classes fascinated him, and he stuck with it.
He credits the department with making him a better student, and giving him insights into human behavior that have proved beneficial inside the justice system. Oleisky graduated from the U's law school in 1962. He has been a judge for 36 years, and he plans to keep an office with his son and daughter, who are local criminal attorneys.
In 2007, Oleisky was awarded the Sidney Barrows Lifetime Commitment Award from the Twin Cities Cardozo Society, which recognizes a Jewish attorney or judge in the Twin Cities for excellence in their profession as well as community service. He also received the Golden Gavel Award for the state's Fourth Judicial District.
In his years on the bench, Oleisky has witnessed hardship and renewal. One case from the 1980s still haunts him. A young boy had a mentally ill stepfather who wanted to have unsupervised visits with his son. After progressive steps the father took, Oleisky allowed it. That weekend, the father killed his two year-old son.
"If I could get one case back," he ponders, "that would always be the one. I was heartsick. I actually thought of quitting. I really started questioning my judgment," he said.
Oleisky has seen children come before him as juveniles only to return decades later in the criminal courts. But he also once helped a teenage girl escape a life of prostitution, and years later she asked him to officiate at her wedding.
"The courts are the repository for the social problems of society. They're the place of last resort, and people look to us to make those decisions. You're always making difficult decisions. There are all sorts of shades of grey in just about every case."