by Eric Hagen
Brianne Buccicone remembers teachers wheeling a television into her high school lunchroom to watch as the jury delivered “not guilty” verdicts in the murder case against O.J. Simpson.
It was one of the highest-profile cases in America’s history and also unique because every single day of the trial was televised live. Buccicone watched the legal proceedings every day she could, drawn not only to the human drama of an ex-star football player being charged with murder but also the intricacies of the way evidence was presented by the attorneys and how the judge decided what evidence should be presented to the jury.
Buccicone will now be in charge of making key decisions in accordance with her interpretations of the law as she serves as one of the newest judges in the 10th Judicial District Court. Gov. Mark Dayton appointed her to fill a vacancy that opened in Sherburne County District Court in Elk River, when Judge Thomas Hayes retired.
“It’s a little surreal to know I have that ability now and I have the opportunity to do that, and it’s also a huge responsibility,” she said. “Luckily I have great judges I’ve met through Ramsey County and Anoka County that have been good examples for me going forward and people I will be able to call on and lean on when I have questions.”
Regarding Sherburne County, Buccicone said she has heard great things about everyone, including the judges, court administration, public defenders, county attorneys and the sheriff’s office.
“I’m excited to be in that environment as well,” she said.
Buccicone has been one of the assistant attorneys in the Anoka County Attorney’s Office civil division, where she represented petitioners in civil commitment proceedings. When a defense attorney team argues that a client has a mental health issue that prevents them from understanding the crime they committed and the potential punishment, a Rule 20 motion is filed so there can be a review of the defendant’s mental health. This division also worked with doctors who would determine whether a defendant needed to be civilly committed.
One of her biggest cases took more than a year and led to the civil commitment of Jamie Allen Andrews to a sex offenders treatment program.
Previously, Buccicone also has experience working in the Anoka County Attorney’s Office protective services unit, public defender’s office in Ramsey County and as a judicial law clerk for Judge Diane Alshouse.
Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo said Buccicone “has been a very competent and a real stalwart” attorney for very difficult cases that deal with mental illnesses and sexually dangerous predators.
“It’s an excellent appointment,” Palumbo said. “She’s a very smart and very dedicated lawyer. I expect she’ll bring those attributes to her new role as a judge.”
Buccicone was already fascinated by law well before the O.J. Simpson trial case captivated the nation’s attention. While her parents were not overtly political, they made a point to watch network news every day.
Public service was also important to her parents. Her father served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves, and her mother was a nurse.
Buccicone and her husband, Blair, who is also an assistant Anoka County attorney, live in Andover. They are involved with the Andover Youth Hockey Association and the Andover Heart Safe initiative to train people on how to perform CPR and use an automated external defibrillator when someone has a heart attack or goes into cardiac arrest.
Buccicone earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Minnesota. She interned as a researcher for the Minnesota Legislature and became fascinated with not only the process of a bill becoming a law, but also how the law is enacted and enforced. She earned her degree in law from the Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
Buccicone believes her personal and professional experiences give her valuable knowledge to be a better district court judge.
“When you get to actually interact with a client, you get to see and understand that there’s usually more going on behind it. That it’s not necessarily just that criminal act but oftentimes you’re dealing with people who have mental health or chemical health issues, or just basic needs that are not being met,” she said.
For Buccicone, the toughest part of her job as an attorney has been knowing that certain clients would benefit from more than the standard treatments for chemical abuse or mental health issues, but there is a limit on the dollars available for these programs.
Specialty courts that include judges, prosecution and defense attorneys, probation officers and community representatives reviewing individual cases on a more intense level than the standard court process is helpful, but limited funding and resources make it difficult to do this for all cases.
In her experience, Buccicone has seen incidents where a judge ruled that a defendant was mentally incompetent to proceed through the court system, but it was later determined that this person’s mental illness was not severe enough to be civilly committed. This leads to criminal cases not being finalized and defendants not getting all of the services they need since they are not civilly committed.
Buccicone said judges rely the expertise of psychologists examining defendants before making any ruling on competency to proceed.
“I’m not a doctor. I rely on them,” she said. “The goal is always to keep them out of the system so they don’t cycle through and to make the community safe as a whole.”