Archived Story

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge to come off bench

Published 11:17am Wednesday, June 19, 2013

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Dennis O’Brien will hang up his robe in Fergus Falls for the final time today. He’s made monthly trips to the city from St. Paul since 1985 and is retiring from his spot on the bench at the end of the month.

“It has been an extremely fulfilling experience,” O’Brien said.

Tuesday, O’Brien recalled the history and how times have changed during his nearly 30 years presiding in federal bankruptcy court in Fergus Falls, the sixth division in the eighth circuit of federal court. Before 1985, the two courtrooms at the federal courthouse in Fergus Falls went unoccupied for 25 to 30 years.

When O’Brien started in bankruptcy court in 1984, Fergus Falls wasn’t a venue.

“Cases were handled by Minnesota bankruptcy judges, but the clerk’s office and the files were maintained in Fargo,” he said.

So, O’Brien assumed responsibility for cases and traveled to Fargo, where he’d borrow a courtroom to conduct cases. But then the Chief District Judge of Minnesota and Chief District Judge of North Dakota “got into some kind of tiff,” O’Brien said. The North Dakota judge said to “’pick up your files and get out of here,’” O’Brien said.

Enter the centrally-located courthouse in the division, with a courtroom that was restored to look like it did in its hay days.

“Fergus Falls was far and away the best pick,” O’Brien said. “We chose Fergus Falls because of its location and because there was already a facility in place.”

With no clerk’s office yet for the monthly trip to Fergus Falls, O’Brien said he loaded files into the trunk of his car and hauled them up from St. Paul. The clerk’s office opened later in 1985 but closed just a couple of years ago.

O’Brien went from loading files manually to a digital age where filing is done and can be found online.

“It’s no longer necessary to have an isolated clerk’s facility,” he said. “We do everything that we always did, except physically maintain the files. We still come up here once a month.”

He also recalls when times were a little more tense and one of the busiest in bankruptcy court, during the early days of the farming crisis in the 1980s.

“There were a lot of farms that went down,” O’Brien said. “It was a very emotional time.”

It was a time with a lot of chapter 11 bankruptcy cases, when O’Brien was in court some days from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. It was just farm cases, one after another, he said.

Another thing they didn’t have in the courtroom years ago was security, but it just wasn’t a concern then, he said.

“If you had problems with somebody in the courtroom, you’d just have to talk it through,” O’Brien said.

He was 36 years old in 1984 when he was appointed to his first 14-year term on the bench. Now 65, he’s in the middle of a 14-year term that would run out in 2018.

“I just feel it’s time to move on to something else,” O’Brien said.

He will likely spend time with his wife of 42 years (as of June 26), and his two children and two grandchildren. But he won’t get out of law entirely. He plans to work as counsel on a limited basis for a friend’s law firm in Minneapolis.

“I’m not going to have a big hole in my life,” he said.

Fergus Falls Mayor Hal Leland declared today as The Honorable Dennis D. O’Brien Appreciation Day, via a proclamation read at Monday’s city council meeting.

O’Brien was honored with a lunch today at River Inn put on by the State Bar Association.

  • camobabe

    For Heather Rule, the author of this aarticle.

    There is no such thing as “hay days” in the dictionary.

    The correct spelling is “heydays”,(one word) meaning a period of greatest strength, vigor, or prosperity. You cannot be blamed for this error if you were a victim of a public schol education after roughly 1965, when the NEA decided it was more important to make you into a person of high self esteem, feeling good about yourself, than to teach you such old fashioned and oppressive concepts such as reading and writing and composition, mathematics, science, civics, etc.

    Otherwise an informative piece.

    • camobabe

      Note also my misspelling of “article”, as aarticle., and “school” as schol.
      Some keys on my keyboard are sticking, so , time for a cleaning.

      • Richard Olson

        Hey alias Camilla, why don’t you look up “blame game” in your dictionary and while you’re at it check out “rumor”. As in the rumors you love to spread about the teachers union. There are about three of you slack jawed tea baggers who believe that the teachers union gets to determine the curriculum in any public school.

        The rest of us who prefer facts and truth understand that the curriculum is set by the school board. What really bothers you about the public school system is that your cult of reactionary 700 club Christians can’t bully most systems into teaching the “Flintstone Theory of Evolution” where early man lived side by side with dinosaurs like in the Flintstones cartoon. Where the earth is 5000 years old and Charles Darwin was never born. And we all know the very last thing you cultists want is the public school system to do is to teach “SCIENCE”, science to you bible thumpers is like the plague.

        By the way alias Camilla, how come when Heather Rule misspells a word it’s probably because she attended public school, but when you misspell a word or two it’s because your keyboard malfunctioned.

        • camobabe

          So, what’s your excuse when you spread untruths and half truths and hate and envy and anger? Instead of catching an error and correcting it, you just ratchet up the acrimony and hostility. And anyone who believes it is not the NEA, led by its socialist executives and shop foremen and enforcers who carry out the orders from the left to dumb down students, not the NEA who actually sets and teaches their agenda, let me know who it is, as I have some swamp land to sell him.
          If we could actually get a few school board members to sit for a few weeks of classes in our public school classrooms, there would be many questions posed to the administration regarding the difference between what the school board expects to be taught, and what is actually happening in the classrooms.

          I do not fault Heather Rule for not doing a word right, I am merely pointing out that she probably was never or only seldomly taught idioms, spelling, metaphors and similes, or proper construction of sentences, or appropriate punctuation in her public school years, as the goals of the leftist NEA are to concentrate on indoctrinating young minds with socialist notions, victimology, disdain and even hatred for achievers who strive for personal excellence. The NEA are your allies in your effort to convert this country into an amoral, even immoral collectivist mob dependent on Big Brother socialist dictators.Unfortunately they are aided and abetted by teachers who see what is happening, but will not speak up about it because they are fearful of adverse actions from the NEA which can diminish, even destroy the careers of truth tellers. Or attacks by trolls like yourself waiting to pounce on anyone who reveals your intentions and actions.

          • Richard Olson

            Keep your swampland alias Camilla, most people are smart enough they wouldn’t buy a glass of ice water from you if stranded in Death Valley. Had you bothered to read what I wrote rather than giving it a quick glance then bouncing off your basement walls with hyper hysterics, you would know that I’ve already told you it is the school board that set the curriculum. If you have some actual evidence that I’m wrong, show it to me. I’m talking about real evidence, not just more gas bag blow by from your Neanderthal cohorts at Fox news and the Glen Beck hour of rumors.

            Other than that, your latest comment is nothing more than lashing out at me for hurting your feeling by getting to close to the real reason for your far right agenda. Why don’t you just go back to your narrow-minded super religious school where you will be comfortable with fantasy and fairy tales, where true science never intrudes over talking snakes and leave the public schools to people who value a real education.

            Ready? 3.….2.…..1 resume bouncing.

  • firedome60

    “Camilla” needs to find a new hobby.Maybe Fox News needs a new “fair and balanced”contributor.

  • Walt Henry

    When in the courfe of human events it become neceffary…
    Might I enlighten Camilla that, over time, language changes. If you will check the Urban Dictionary you will find two meanings attached to the phrase, “hay day”. While you are correct in stating current mainstream dictionaries recognize only “heydays” people ARE changing the language. (Try getting an f instead of an s in course through a auto-spell program.)
    For a little insight into the public education we of the baby boom received might I suggest you search the term Coronet Educational Films and view a few of these videos. These were propaganda films used to teach Americanism to school children and, I think, some of us still suffer from the delusions they created. (BTW–this comment begins with a few words from our Declaration Of Independence; a document worth holding “deore” even though we have made it more contemporary.)

  • Walt Henry

    Here’s a phrase to hold deore to your heart—”When in the courfe of human events it becomes neceffary….”(language changes, sometimes it is hard to keep up)

  • Elliot Dallavalle

    Camilla – Actually you are wrong again on the term “hay day.” When I was growing up tending to milk cows and horses, my old Uncle Joe would say the livestock were having a “hay day” or just plain lazy. Generally that was when the temps were in the 90′s and just too hot to even go out to pasture and graze.

    However, more to the point, if you believe terms not in the dictionary are not to be used, then I suggest you look up “constitutional conservative.” Or you can save yourself the trouble and believe me when I say it is not there. So therefore there is “no such thing” as you like to say.

    I can safely say you are a product of the public “schol” (remember to proof read before submission so you don’t look like a fool) education you disdain but I won’t hold that against you. Generally all of us are. Although some, as it appears to be by your response, refused to learn and passed the time away copying classmates’ tests by allowing others to do the hard work.

    Otherwise, quite an eye opener to say the least.

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