By Solomon Gustavo
This article is part of an ongoing series profiling candidates running for various offices and how their election might impact our communities.
A William Mitchell College of Law graduate with over a decade of private practice experience, Calandra Revering is one of the only Black women criminal defense attorneys in the state. Black women are also missing from the bench — including the Ramsey County judge seat for which Revering is challenging an incumbent this November.
There are some Black men on the bench, said Revering, “but you won’t see anybody that looks like your mother. That means something. You are affected by the court system, directly or indirectly.”
From child protection to tenants’ rights, zoning and service licenses, or even the way a police officer pulls over people and treats them are informed, she said, by judicial decisions that trickle down into the way people live.
She notes it is not just the bench, but the entire downtown Ramsey County court administration that woefully under-represents the minorities it serves.
“People go into that building and they are tense because they feel they are not going to be respected. And, they are not.” Even wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, she said, a clerk addresses her as a defendant every time she enters the building.
Revering remembers raising a child alone and walking him to William Mitchell classes because her car barely worked. She has compassion for diverse life experiences and would extend that to circumstances many judges would not. If a typical White male judge sees a single parent of color arrive late to court, he might react harshly. However, Revering said, “I’m not going to take her into custody.”
Revering said she has witnessed countless examples of indignities at every procedural level of Ramsey County courts. And she’s had enough.
She moved back to the county and, no matter the outcome of her race, she and a growing cohort of like-minded lawyers have committed to making Ramsey County courts a fairer, more respectful place for everyone.
“I play to win. I don’t play to have fun. It’s going to change, either through me or my work,” said Revering.
Judges are rarely challenged. Then again, many voters aren’t aware of judge races or the general court system.
“Incumbents get comfortable because they know you don’t know what’s going on,” Revering said. “They do nothing and keep disrespecting not only people of color, but White people, too.”
In our interview with Revering, she gets voters acquainted with issues she hopes to address on the bench.
MSR: What’s the most important thing you want to accomplish when you get the judgeship?
Calandra Revering: The most important thing I want to accomplish is to establish an environment of diversity in the courthouse and the judiciary. I believe that diversity is not just about race and ethnicity, but also includes gender, sexual orientation, and life experience. I want to bolster trust in the judiciary by creating an atmosphere of inclusion, respect and fairness.
MSR: What’s the most controversial issue you think you would have to deal with if elected?
CR: I think the most controversial issue I will have to deal with when I become a Ramsey County judge is probably inclusion and respect from several of the other judges on the bench. Some judges are elected to the bench, some are appointed. Although the paths are different, pursuing the goal is the same, and some judges regard one path as more reputable than another.
I won’t allow any criticism of an election victory to discourage my intentions. I am confident my presence will bring value to the Ramsey County bench.
MSR: How do we get money out of politics, i.e. campaign financing?
CR: Other offices might take a page from judicial candidates. Judicial candidates must follow the rules of campaign finance as presented by the Minnesota Secretary of State.
Campaign financing rules have been established for judicial candidates to eliminate the appearance of influence of any donor over the candidate running for public office. Having a few individuals on my committee familiar with campaign financing rules has been a great asset during this election.
MSR: What do you say to people who hate judges?
CR: When individuals say they hate judges, it is quite possible they may have a personal reason to say they hate judges. I respect their feelings, and I am cognizant of their position.
Instead of delving into the reason, I would say to learn more about the judiciary, the process of becoming a judge and the law. Also, registering to vote means you could be selected to serve on a jury, which is a great service to our community. Many people learn a significant amount of information about the court process by serving on a jury.
MSR: What’s your favorite thing or story about your county?
CR: My favorite thing about Ramsey County is being treated like family at local establishments like restaurants, small retail shops and coffee shops. It is also the prominence of the diverse elements of St. Paul. I love the close familial relationships that I have developed over the years with many individuals of diverse backgrounds. I believe that these relationships have been encouraging, empowering and inspiring for me and my son.
MSR: What is the greatest impact your position will have on the African American community?
CR: I think the greatest impact on the African American community is knowing there is someone on the bench that is a reflection of their culture. Black women are mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces and friends, and have a major role in the Black family. To see a face that identifies with your race can have considerable significance to a person of color. For me, being on the Ramsey County bench will also mean staying connected to the community and continuing to mentor and encourage all people. Every person has value.
MSR: What elected judges (past or present) in the state do you most admire or serve as role models for you?
CR: Well, I have several friends who currently serve on the bench as well as my mentor, whom I consider to be a role model. There are also judges from other counties — like Hennepin, Anoka and Scott County — who I hold in high regard and follow their examples of judicial temperament and consideration.
Of course, I most admire The Honorable Wilhelmina (Mimi) Wright who now sits on the Federal Bench in Minnesota. She was the first Black woman appointed to the Ramsey County bench and the first Black woman appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Four years later, she was nominated to the federal bench, where she currently resides. I believe that she exemplifies fairness and has a deep respect for the law, the courts, and all participants in the judicial system.
Judge Mimi Wright has said that “fairness, impartiality, respect for the rule of law, and respect for all litigants are fundamental requirements for a judge… Indeed, I have no agenda as a judge other than these values.”
She has also said numerous times that to achieve this level of fairness in the courts, diversity enriches the practice of law and is an integral part of the judicial system. I regard Judge Mimi Wright’s statements as true for our judiciary, and I am confident that I will represent the standard she has set forth for judges today.
This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder