SOL Magazine Spring 2023




Minnesota Supreme Court Justices take questions from law students following a hearing in the law school’s Frey Moot Courtroom.

of belonging to everyone she encounters. In person, Justice Chutich is outgoing, upbeat and

she starred on the tennis team. She graduated as a history major and won a scholarship to spend nine months at the University of Zagreb, studying Croatian, before heading to the University of Michigan for law school. Then Chutich got the opportunity of a lifetime: clerking for the late Judge Diana Murphy on the federal district court. “I learned what an excellent judge should do: how to conduct a courtroom; how to craft opinions. I learned from her the importance of trying to do your work promptly, because people are out there waiting for those decisions that are affecting their lives.” And she gained confidence. “When I first started working for [Judge Murphy], I was reluctant to give her recommendations,” Chutich recalled; she felt that she didn’t know enough. But the judge told her that her job was really to do the best that she could—advice she holds to this day. After years as an advocate in private

practice, working as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and at the Minnesota Attorney General’s office, Chutich was appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 2012. In 2016, Governor Mark Dayton appointed her to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and she was elected to her position in 2018. Chutich married her longtime partner, Dr. Penny Wheeler, in 2013, as soon as same-sex marriage was legal in Minnesota. She and Wheeler have now been together for more than 25 years. (Dr. Wheeler is a member of the University of St. Thomas Board of Trustees and a physician who retired as the chief executive of Allina Health in 2021.) The couple adopted a daughter, Olivia, from Guatemala, and raised her together. The family suffered a tragic loss in January 2021 when Olivia died at age 21 of hypothermia and alcohol on her first day back at Iowa State. The sudden loss of their beautiful and vibrant daughter—“our walking exclamation point,” as they called her—has been


approachable, with an easy laugh. She describes her childhood as “idyllic,” growing up the third of four kids, in a home with loving parents and doting grandparents nearby. Her family owned the local hardware store. Her father, the child of Croatian immigrants, nurtured her love of the outdoors. A natural athlete, Chutich gravitated early to sports, playing tennis, softball and basketball, but also to music—she has played the piano since first grade and played the clarinet in high school. In both music and sports, she learned, “If you do devote time to things and practice, you can get better,” she said. After graduation, she headed to Stanford, where she played varsity basketball. She says she loved her experience there, but transferred to the University of Minnesota, where

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chutich has never shied away from competition. Growing up in Anoka, Minnesota, in the 1960s and ‘70s, she started playing tennis at the age of nine, and by age 11 was ranked first in her age group. By the time she got to ninth and tenth grades, few girls could play at her level, so she joined the boys’ teams, and compiled a winning record. With Title IX in 1972 came more opportunities for girls, including, in Chutich’s junior year, the first Minnesota State High School

League girls’ tennis tournament. The young star decided to switch to the girls’ team, for two reasons: She wanted to play in that first tournament, but also because she recognized, as she recalled recently, “if all the best girls’ players were playing on the boys’ teams, the girls’ teams wouldn’t improve that much.” The decision paid off: Chutich made it to the state tournament in singles that first year, losing only to the eventual state champion. She returned her senior year and won the singles championship. The

story illustrates not only Chutich’s drive and determination, but her generous spirit, foreshadowing the way she would use opportunities to lift others up throughout her life. At St. Thomas School of Law, Chutich has been a mentor for 14 years, and since 2018, a member of the Board of Governors. As the first openly gay justice on the state’s highest court, she has taken a special interest in making sure every person feels represented and respected, and is known for extending that care and sense

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Spring 2023 Page 15

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