Ramsey County, A Place in History

By RCBA President Kenya Bodden

I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the proud and trailblazing history of the Ramsey County District Court. It is only fitting to write about this during Black History Month. Did you know first the African American judicial officer to serve in the State of Minnesota was appointed to the Second Judicial Court? For those who organized, presented, or attended the RCBA CLE, Judge Stephen Maxwell Portrait Celebration and Judicial Firsts, I picture you nodding your heads.  

Judge Stephen L. Maxwell1 was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1921. He attended and graduated from Saint Paul Central High School, before graduating from Morehouse College. In 1942, he joined the United States Coast Guard where he served as Lieutenant and Commander. He discharged from the Coast Guard in 1945. Later, he joined the Navy Reserve as an enlisted man who earned the promotion of Captain. He retired from the Navy Reserve in 1974.

Following his service in the Coast Guard, Judge Maxwell returned home to Saint Paul, Minnesota. He attended Saint Paul College of Law, now known as Mitchel Hamline School of Law. He graduated with his law degree in 1953. Judge Maxwell’s started his legal career as counsel for the Saint Paul NAACP. In 1959, Judge Maxwell became an Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, where he obtained a conviction against a man who arranged for his wife to be killed in what was dubbed “Minnesota’s murder of the century.”. Judge Maxwell left the County Attorney’s office to serve as a Saint Paul City Attorney.

In 1966, Judge Maxwell ran for the United States House of Representatives, as a Republican in a heavily democratic fourth congressional district. His bid for the congressional seat was impressive and very close. Judge Maxwell ran against a seven-term incumbent and only lost by 11,300 votes, out of the nearly 190,000 votes cast. In 1968, Judge Maxwell was appointed to the Ramsey County District Court, where he remained until his retirement in 1987. After retirement Judge Maxwell lived in Saint Paul until his passing in 2009. In 2020, Judge Maxwell’s portrait was presented to the Ramsey County Law Library as the first portrait for a judge of color.

Speaking of great judges in Ramsey County, the Ramsey County Bar Association Judge’s Dinner is back! Come join us March 9, 2023, at Midland Hills Country Club in Roseville, Minnesota. This year’s theme is, “From A to Zourt.” Judge’s Dinner is a fun time and great opportunity for members of our legal community to enjoy each other’s company. Please join us for a great evening.

 Kenya Bodden, 2022-2023 Ramsey County Bar Association President, is a partner at Thompson Coe LLP, a 70-plus-year-old national complex litigation law firm with more than 200 attorneys. Kenya focuses his litigation practice in the areas of casualty, transportation, insurance defense, and products liability. He also serves as a board member of Children’s Hospital Association (CHA), a dedicated group of volunteers who raise funds to invest in innovative and integral health care programs at Children’s Minnesota.


1. See Ramsey County Law Library Blog, Law Librarian, February 4, 2015, Judge Stephen L. Maxwell (1921-2009); Minnesota Black History Project: Interview with Stephen L. Maxwell: Collections Online: mnhs.org.

2. What is “Zourt?” Please see this video and come to the event to learn more.