BEMIDJI -- Judge Paul Benshoof of Bemidji is being recognized this week as one of 50 people over the age of 50 who have made significant contributions and achievements in their communities.
Pollen Midwest and AARP sponsor the program. Pollen is a business and social connector bringing together diverse voices “to take professional community building to a new level.” The nonprofit organization is based in Minneapolis.
Benshoof, 68, has served Beltrami County for the past 22 years as a judge in the Ninth Judicial District. He is being honored for his work with the Beltrami County Domestic Violence Court, the county’s Children’s Justice Initiative and his advocacy for the hearing impaired.
Benshoof will receive the award Thursday, Oct. 17, at an event in Minneapolis.
“It came as a complete surprise,” he said. “What I wanted to accomplish by becoming a judge was to serve the people of Beltrami County and to help people navigate what sometimes is a very difficult part of their life. When I learned of this award I truly felt humbled but I also feel that what I’m doing is no more than 335 judges across the state are doing, because it’s what every judge wants to accomplish.”
Benshoof said the Domestic Violence Court was created because the system needed a change.
“I began to realize that just like every business, the judicial system needs to change to better serve the public,” he said.. “We had to do something different in our approach toward domestic violence.”
He reached out to stakeholders and his fellow judges, and the program was formed in 2013.
”We’ve become nationally recognized,” Benshoof said. “”We were only the third court in Minnesota at the time to make the decision that we needed to do something different with respect to dealing with violence against women. It couldn't have happened without the whole community coming together and making the decision that this was something we needed to adopt.”
The Children’s Justice Initiative followed a similar path. It was formed in 2004 because of a desire to improve the outcomes for abused and neglected children. Since that time, regular meetings have been held including social workers, judges, attorneys representing children and parents, law enforcement officials and foster parents.
“We discuss what can we do differently,” Benshoof said. “That has been ongoing for 15 years and has risen to the challenge of the changes that have occurred in Beltrami County over those 15 years.”
Benshoof’s own hearing disability made him an advocate for others who have trouble hearing and/or understanding in the courtroom.
“I know how many people come to court who can’t hear well,” he said. “I see it every day. In Minnesota there are over a million people with hearing impairment or are deaf. That’s one-fifth of our population. The numbers are significant. That means that many people who come to court are simply not able to hear what’s being said. If it’s an issue that might involve their liberty, and if they don’t understand what the judge is saying, the potential ramifications are huge.”
He has worked with judges, court administrators, court reporters, members of the public and law enforcement to educate people about hearing impairment.