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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Coleman goes to the mattresses over Dietzen appointment

If you read Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman's column today, you might be under the misimpression that Court of Appeals Judge Christopher Dietzen is some sort of mafioso.

It's well known that Dietzen, who was recently appointed to the state Supreme Court, has conservative credentials and close ties to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, including serving as Pawlenty's legal counsel. In an apparent reference to this, Coleman refers to Dietzen as the governor's political consiglieri. Now that word can technically just mean a counsellor or advisor, but who doesn't think of "The Godfather" when they hear it? In fact, I found the following definition when I googled the word: "An adviser or counselor, especially to a capo or leader of an organized crime syndicate."

As far as I know at least, Dietzen has never delivered a horse's head to anyone's bedside or shot anybody at a toll booth. With decades of legal experience and three years on the Court of Appeals under his belt, Dietzen is well-qualified for the high court post. He is a political conservative (no surprise with a Republican governor doing the picking), but does not have a reputation as a radical as Coleman seems to imply.

The one point Coleman makes that I agree with is that judicial candidates in Minnesota should go through a mandatory merit-selection procedure rather than just be hand picked willy-nilly by the governor. While I believe that Dietzen is a worthy selection, the governor could have made any lawyer friend an appellate judge with the same ease that Caligula once made his favorite horse a Roman senator. Under our current system, the governor has absolute discretion in awarding appellate judgeships to lawyers. (Several governors in the past have chosen to use ad-hoc screening committees to vet appellate appointments, but this process has never been required.)

Both the Minnesota State Bar Association and the Quie Commission include in their proposals for revamping judicial elections in Minnesota a requirement that a merit-selection committee screen all candidates seeking appointments to the bench. Regardless of where we come out on judicial-election reform, I think that is one component of the proposals that ought to be adopted.

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