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St. Louis County law library booked into new venue

Former St. Louis County Attorney Alan Mitchell (left) and current County Attorney Mark Rubin share a laugh in the law library named in Mitchell’s honor. The library in the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth was dedicated on Tuesday. (Steve Kuchera /

The St. Louis County Law Library has a new name and a new location.

Rededicated Tuesday as the “Alan Mitchell Law

Library,” this public resource has moved from a cramped room on the fifth floor of the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth to a ground-level

location, just steps from the building’s main entrance.

With the move, the Law Library Board of Trustees and St. Louis County Board voted to rename the

125-year-old library in honor of Mitchell, who served as county attorney for 28 years and helped establish sustainable funding for the once debt-ridden library.

“This is truly a bright day,” St. Louis County Commissioner Steve Raukar said. “There is a tremendous service the public will receive from this valued asset. It didn’t come without a lot of work, a lot of toil, a lot of innovation and a lot of thinking outside the box by people like Al Mitchell to bring it to a stable situation.”

With the new space, the law library will see a return to full-time staffing. The Law Library Board has in place a contract with the Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota, which will staff the library with an attorney from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

The library offers historic and current legal books, online services and self-help materials.

While it was once an integral resource for attorneys, the library’s focus has shifted in recent years. Lawyers now have access to state statues and case law at the click of a computer mouse. But many people represent themselves in court, and the law library provides resources that are otherwise unavailable, supporters said.

“One of the judiciary’s goals is to provide access to justice,” 6th Judicial District Assistant Chief Judge Gary Pagliaccetti said. “It’s these county law libraries that allow that to happen. The trust in the system can only come from people having full understanding and knowledge of how the system works.”

Mitchell, 68, served as county attorney from 1979 to 2006 and was an original member of the Law Library Board. After he was narrowly unseated by challenger Melanie Ford in 2006, Mitchell served a brief stint as county administrator, but has since dropped out of the public eye.

Mitchell said he reluctantly agreed to accept the library’s naming honors, but only with the understanding that the honor is shared with many others who ardently supported the library.

“There were many who served on the Law Library Board before me and after me that have probably done more in respect to the library itself,” he told a crowd at the dedication ceremony. “There are others who perhaps deserved it more than I do and their service should be recognized.”

Don Erickson, a library trustee and attorney at Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith & Frederick law office, recalled Mitchell’s work to bring the library out of deep debt — over $150,000 by the end of 2004. Initially, a $10 filing fee was added to all criminal and civil cases. However, it was not until Mitchell spearheaded an initiative to add a $2 fee to all parking tickets within the county that the library became sustainable, Erickson said.

“That actually added more funding than the filing fees did,” Erickson said. “Today, the law library is on solid financial ground thanks to these initial members that had the foresight and vision to save the law library and bring it into the 21st century.”

St. Louis County also houses public law libraries with part-time staffing in the Virginia and Hibbing courthouses.