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St. Louis County prosecutor joins bench as referee

Jessica Fralich has spent nearly three decades working in the criminal justice system, including 14 years with the county attorney's office.

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Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jessica Fralich discusses the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the criminal justice system during a September 2020 interview outside the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — One of the most experienced prosecutors in the St. Louis County Attorney's Office has been named to a judicial position for Northeastern Minnesota.

Jessica Fralich will serve as a referee for the 6th Judicial District, the court announced Monday. Referees are authorized to perform judicial duties in certain cases, such as small claims and family law matters, under the supervision of district court judges.

Chief Judge Michael Cuzzo said he was pleased to welcome Fralich, who has spent the past 14 years prosecuting cases in Duluth and on the Iron Range.

“Ms. Fralich brings a wealth of experience from her time as an attorney in private practice and in public service with the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office," Cuzzo said in a statement. "She has also served as adjunct instructor at Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College, teaching courses in Minnesota law and domestic violence to those seeking degrees in law enforcement. We are thankful for the experience and expertise Ms. Fralich brings to our bench.”

Fralich, 48, has prior experience handling family law, real property law and general civil litigation. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Hamline University School of Law.

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Judge Leslie Beiers will elevate to chief judge July 1. Beiers, based in Duluth, will be backed by a new assistant chief judge, Hibbing's Rachel Sullivan.

Since joining the county attorney's office in 2008, Fralich has prosecuted all levels of crime and developed an expertise in cases involving sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. She was tapped in 2017 to supervise the office's criminal division for the Hibbing and Virginia courthouses, before returning to Duluth in 2020.

Fralich has prosecuted numerous high-profile homicide case over the years, including the 2000 cold case of Trina Langenbrunner on the Fond du Lac Reservation, the fatal shooting of University of Minnesota Duluth student William Grahek and, more recently, the Christmas Day 2018 murder of Jeryel McBeth in Hibbing.

Under Minnesota law, referees may be appointed by the district's chief judge to handle certain duties, typically including hearings on conciliation cases, eviction actions and requests for protection or harassment restraining orders.

Unlike district judges, who are elected by voters to six-year terms, referees serve at the pleasure of the judiciary. While not generally authorized to issue orders, referees help alleviate caseload by hearing cases and preparing reports and recommendations, which then go to a judge for review.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as referee for the 6th Judicial District,” Fralich said. “I look forward to bringing my nearly 30 years of experience advocating for victims of domestic violence and developing community training programs, including as a member of the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office for the past 14 years, to further serve the community in my new role in the judicial system.”

The 6th District includes 16 judges chambered at six courthouses in St. Louis, Carlton, Cook and Lake counties. Judges and staff handle approximately 59,000 case filings each year.

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTSDULUTH
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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