JOHN DeSANTO bringing 30 years of justice to the benchDeSanto was appointed by Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty as judge for the Sixth Judicial District (St. Louis County). Though he has more than 30 years of prosecutorial experience, DeSanto is one who recognizes he can always learn more, always be better prepared.
By: Story and Photography by Paul Josephs, Living North Magazine
Even though John DeSanto hasn’t officially taken the bench, you’ll find him most days in the courtroom. He’s doing his homework for his July appointment as a judge for the Sixth Judicial District (St. Louis County). DeSanto was appointed by Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty to fill a vacancy that arose in judicial restructuring.
Though he has more than 30 years of prosecutorial experience, DeSanto is a humble man – one who recognizes he can always learn more, always be better prepared. And so most days he heads to the courtroom where he observes a variety of cases to become more familiar with the minutia of different disciplines with which he will be working. These cases span the spectrum of hearings and trials that include adult criminal cases, juvenile court matters, civil disputes, family court, probate matters, unlawful detainers, conciliation court, traffic matters, and orders for protection hearings.
And he takes every aspect of it very seriously.
“A judge is a guardian of the Constitution and the Rule of Law,” he says. “A judge is an impartial decision maker who determines cases based upon that law and its’ application.”
John DeSanto is not a complex man, however his roles are defined by his life. He is a son, a devout Christian, brother, prosecutor, husband, father, author, and now, judge appointee.
Raised in Duluth with his twin brother Will, he completed his graduate studies in the Twin Cities. He began his career in prosecution with the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office in Duluth and continued in that role until his retirement.
Early in his career he found himself the prosecutor of the infamous Velma Pietila and Elisabeth Congdon double homicide that rocked the region in June, 1977. Years later, in 2003, DeSanto co-authored a can’t-put-it-down book about the murders. After two long years and two long jury trials in the Pietila/Congdon matter, DeSanto married his then girlfriend, Lana, and together they have raised three children.
DeSanto regards his family as one of the most important things in his life. Combining his love of travel with his love of family, he occasionally travels to meet with his son for a few rounds of golf. Though he won’t reveal his handicap (when pressed, pleads the 5th) he delights in any reason to spend time with his son. Enjoying time with his daughters also requires travel at times. DeSanto has taken to the New York theatre scene as an enjoyable way to spend time with one of his daughters. He also makes time to visit with his other daughter, a Twin Cities elementary school teacher and speaks to her classes about his travels. Together with Lana, the DeSantos have toured Italy and they enthusiastically look forward to more European travel.
He and his brother co-own a cabin located on the Iron Range. “Cabin life is important to me,” he says. “It is a place to relax, and also a place to contemplate and concentrate.” A day at the cabin can find DeSanto hiking in the woods with his lab, taking a sauna, perhaps a little fishing or just enjoying solitude. “Of course, there is always maintenance work to do,” he adds.
Back on home turf, DeSanto is involved in prison ministry at the Federal Prison in Hermantown, and is an active member of an international organization, Christians in Commerce. The goal of the organization is to bring Christian principles into the workplace. DeSanto attends the group’s weekly meetings.
It is his goal to walk through life with a sense of dedication and compassion – traits he intends to bring with him to the bench.