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Lawyer of Hmong descent blazes trail as new Minnesota judge

Attorney Sophia Vuelo has been named a Ramsey County District Court judge. She is Minnesota's first judge of Hmong descent. Photo via Gov. Mark Dayton's office.

Gov. Mark Dayton made another history-making appointment to the Minnesota courts Thursday, appointing a woman who will become the state's first judge of Hmong descent and only the second in the country with that history.

The DFL governor named attorney Sophia Vuelo to the Ramsey County District Court bench, filling a vacancy created by a retirement.

Raised in Wisconsin, Vuelo currently has a solo practice where she handles cases in juvenile protection, family and criminal matters. She has worked in various prosecuting roles, too. Vuelo holds degrees from the University of Minnesota and the Hamline University School of Law, which is now part of the Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

Vuelo wasn't immediately available for comment. State Rep. Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis, applauded the pick.

"This is a monumental occasion for the State of Minnesota, the judicial branch, and the Hmong-American community in Minnesota and around the country," Lee said, adding that judicial diversity matters because it "ensures that the Minnesotans of every racial, socioeconomic, and geographic background will continue to have trust in our legal system, when they see themselves and our diverse communities reflected on the bench in courtrooms throughout Minnesota."

Dayton has made diversifying the state court bench a hallmark of his two terms.

Past picks include the state Supreme Court's first African-American woman (he has now named two), the first Native American woman and the first openly gay justice. The Supreme Court has a female majority as well. Dayton has also appointed the state's first Hispanic appellate court judge.

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