Beloved Minnesota judge, Sally Tarnowski, was tragically killed while on vacation in Venice, Florida.
Tarnowski, 63, had served as a judge in St. Louis County since 2007 and was the chief judge of Minnesota’s Sixth Judicial District in 2016 under Governor Tim Pawlenty.
She advocated for mental health courts and pioneered the state’s Mental Health Court program.
Tarnowski was also a proponent of neutral evaluation in family court, facilitating prompt dispute resolution for custody, parenting time, and financial matters.
While on vacation with family in Florida, Tarnowski was hit by a car while out for a run. Upon returning home, she was still scheduled to hear cases later in the week. Her term as a county judge wasn’t set to run out until 2027.
A moment of silence was held inside her courtroom, and a memorial was set up on the steps of it on Tuesday.
Tarnowski was loved and respected by people on all sides of the law. Public defenders and prosecutors who worked with her praised her work and dedication. Public defender Veronica Surges said, ‘As a passionate defence attorney, I often disagreed with her rulings in my cases.
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.’
Another attorney noted that she was friendly and hard-working, often riding a bike to work in Minnesota’s frigid weather.
Tarnowski’s contributions to establishing the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Courtroom in St. Louis County were praised by local Native American leaders.
Her continued support for the equality of Native American families was unheralded and a massive loss for the 6th Judicial District.
St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin called her a deeply fair judge who enjoyed her work and life. She was contemplating retirement in 2025, according to those close to her, but was still working a full schedule.
In conclusion, Sally Tarnowski’s death is a significant loss for the community she served as a judge, her family, and her friends.
Her pioneering work in mental health courts and contributions to the Indian Child Welfare Act Courtroom will always be remembered.
Many will miss her dedication to the law, her compassion for people, and her love for life.