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Judge Tanya Bransford leaves legacy of hope for those inside and outside the court

Tanya Bransford served as 1st Black woman workers comp judge
Tanya Bransford served as 1st Black woman workers comp judge 02:46

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A native Minnesotan, Tanya Bransford knows how to deal with the cold and harsh times. 

"I had next-door neighbors that refused to talk to us when I grew up in Maplewood and refused to allow us to cross on their yard," Bransford said.

She refused to let that define her, leaning hard into academics and going to Hamline Law School.

"I graduated from law school in 1983, so by then, one-third of law school was women, but I was the only Black woman the whole three years I was in law," Bransford said.

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Not long after, she became the only Black female workers' compensation judge and her career grew from there. 

"As a judge, I did a lot of things in criminal or civil, but I always volunteered to go back to juvenile because that's where my heart was," Bransford said. "And really, I wanted juvenile because I felt that's where I could make the most difference in people's lives."

She says she worked to create a courtroom with respect, where kids realize the seriousness of being in court and also realize the hope. 

"A juvenile came into my court, a juvenile that got into trouble, later in life, came back and wanted me to do her wedding and that she is gonna start a group home for young girls," Bransford said. "Yes, when you see people who want to go out and help others, that's what it is about for me."

It wasn't just the juveniles she was influencing. Judge Maximillia Utley was in law school in 2005 when she met Bransford through the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers. Utley is one of the many Bransford has inspired.

"Her legacy, I think, is community service and just really blazing a path and creating a path for those who came behind her," Utley said.

That means inside the courtroom and out.

"She is involved in her community on so many levels — in her church community. When her son was in school, she was always doing school stuff," Utley said. "When I think of Judge Bransford, I think of her impact on the community and commitment to public service."

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She and other mentees recently showed that allegiance by sneaking away Bransford's robe to have it personalized. 

It's a gift Bransford treasures. 

"The Kente cloth is authentic from Ghana to show the African heritage. They surprised me with this wonderful robe," Bransford said.

Bransford just retired, but she is still working hard, mentoring and teaching law at St. Thomas. 

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