John M. Fitzgerald, retired district court judge, dies

Chuck Kajer, Managing Editor

Judge John Moonan Fitzgerald of New Prague died Monday, June 16, at Queen of Peace Hospital in New Prague. He was 85.

Fitzgerald, who grew up in Rochester was a fighter pilot in World War II. After the war he eventually settled in New Prague, working for his uncle Ray Moonan in his law practice. He married Mary Mach and when his uncle moved on, Fitzgerald established a solo practice.

The law is a tradition in the Fitzgerald family. His maternal grandfather, John Moonan, was a well-known trial lawyer and state senator from Waseca. A brother served on the district court bench in Hennepin County and another brother, two daughters and a number of other family members are or were lawyers. A sister, Rosemary Morris, served in the FBI and in Army intelligence.

Fitzgerald was elected to the Minnesota legislature and served in the House from 1957 to 1963. He lost a bid for a fourth term by a close margin. After a recount, it was determined he lost by 11 votes.

According to an article in The New Prague Times in 1993, Fitzgerald's recount effort was headed by New Prague attorney C.L. Nelson, and at the same time the two were also spearheading efforts for Karl Rolvaag in a recount in the governor's race. While Fitzgerald lost in his recount bid, Rolvaag won and on Nelson's recommendation, he appointed Fitzgerald to an open district court seat, a position he held until his retirement in 1993.

In his 30 years on the bench, mostly in Scott and Le Sueur counties, Fitzgerald presided over more than 2,000 court cases, more than 200 of them criminal cases. At his retirement he recalled two that he remembered most; the Cermak child abuse cases in the 1980s and a Murder for Hire case in Shakopee, where six people were tried and convicted for various roles in the crime, two of them in Fitzgerald's courtroom.

Fitzgerald also was on the bench for a precedent-setting civil case, Busch vs. General Motors, which was one of the first product liability cases heard in the Supreme Court. He said it set the precedent in Minnesota for future liability cases. The trial lasted four months, and appeals went on for years.

In that 1993 interview, Fitzgerald said he took a common sense approach to the law.

You have to exercise some common sense if you are going to be a good judge. Procedure and knowledge of the law helps

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