Courthouse renamed: ‘Most fitting tribute’ to Devitt conducted Tuesday in Fergus [UPDATED]Published 11:12am Wednesday, April 23, 2014 Updated 11:24am Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Senior Judge Myron H. Bright, a friend and colleague of the late Judge Edward J. Devitt, remembers getting calls from Judge Devitt, saying he was coming to Fergus Falls to preside over cases at the United States Courthouse “‘Let’s get up to that Detroit Lakes Country Club and play a little golf,’” Judge Bright said, recalling Judge Devitt’s part of the conversation. “And that we did. He loved coming to Fergus Falls.”
Judge Bright spoke about his friend Tuesday at the renaming ceremony for Judge Devitt. The United States District Courthouse at 118 South Mill St. will officially be named the Edward J. Devitt United States Courthouse and Federal Building.
The U.S. Courthouse was built in 1902 and its current tenants include the U.S. District Court and Bankruptcy Court, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Probation offices.
Chief Judge Michael J. Davis, who presided over the ceremony, called it a “most-fitting tribute.”
Judge Devitt was elected Municipal Judge in East Grand Forks in 1935.
Shortly after, he was featured by Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” as the youngest judge in the nation.
He served on the federal bench for 38 years, becoming chief judge of the district in 1959 and serving in that capacity until 1981, when he assumed senior status.
Judge Devitt died March 2, 1992 at the age of 80.
Judge Bright shared Devitt’s 10 commandments of professionalism dedicated to district judges. Here were a few of them: Remember the other side of the bench. You once were a lawyer, remember that; engage in dialogue; listen carefully; be patient; be dignified but don’t take yourself too seriously; don’t impose long sentences.
“Devitt said a judge should be kind and understanding,” Judge Bright said.
To that point, Judge Devitt has a saying that he was quite fond of, according to Judge John R. Tunheim.
“There are no unimportant cases,” Judge Tunheim said.
Senior Judge Paul A. Magnuson served with Judge Devitt, whom he called his mentor, until 1992.
“What a man,” Judge Magnuson said. “He really was a judge through and through.”
When the two of them went to lunch together, Judge Devitt would greet everybody by name. He knew everybody, and everybody knew him. To Judge Devitt, all people were important, just as he said all cases were important, according to Judge Magnuson.
“Ed Devitt was a master… I’m thankful that we now have a permanent reference to the Edward J. Devitt Courthouse,” Judge Magnuson said.
Judge Devitt’s daughter, Terry Devitt, of St. Paul, and grandchildren Mark Hoffman, of Somerset, Wis., and Michelle Hoffman, of St. Paul, attended the ceremony. The family was very grateful for the honor, Terry Devitt said.
“He enjoyed coming here so much… and then he’d come home and tell us stories of his time up here,” she said.
When she first heard about the renaming possibility a couple years ago, she was surprised. But the more she talked about it with people, she realized what a major honor this is, she said.
“It’s hard to describe,” Terry Devitt said. “I finally saw that the use of the building is new. And now with my dad’s name on it, it’s perfect.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Collin Peterson authored legislation to rename the courthouse after Judge Devitt. Both spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony.
Klobuchar said she was proud to work on the bill, adding that Judge Devitt had a passion for his work and for serving the people of Minnesota.
Peterson, who remarked that it was a fitting tribute, drew some laughter from the audience during his comments.
“One of the advantages of gridlock, is it makes it much easier to name courthouses,” Peterson said. “There’s nothing else to do.”