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Friday, October 24, 2008

Hennepin County judicial race heats up

The race for the judicial seat held by Hennepin County District Court Chief Judge James Swenson is heating up in these final 10 days of the election season.

Swenson is facing a challenge from longtime Hennepin County referee Thomas Haeg. Yesterday, we received a press release from the folks over at Haeg’s campaign, notifying us of a Family Medical Leave Act-related disability discrimination and retaliation charge that a former Hennepin County referee filed last year against Hennepin County and Swenson. According to the Haeg campaign, the charge resulted in a “quiet” $75,000 settlement -- paid for with tax dollars, of course. (While the discrimination charge is a public document, according to Steve Shapiro, the communications consultant for the Thomas Haeg for Judge Committee, knowledge of the settlement amount came from the complainant’s attorney, Seymour Mansfield. A call to Mansfield was not immediately returned.)

I know from having practiced in the employment law area that settlement agreements in cases like this usually contain confidentiality clauses, so presumably neither side can discuss the specifics of the charge. (We attempted to get a comment from Swenson’s campaign chairs, but so far have been unable to do so. If or when we do, we’ll provide an update.) The Haeg campaign believes that the Star Tribune is working on a story, so stay tuned.

It seems to me that both Swenson and Haeg are qualified for the District Court seat and election of either would be a good result for the county. But I’m not sure I approve of the Haeg campaign's use of the discrimination charge and the resulting settlement as a last-minute tactic to turn voters against the incumbent. It seems a little desperate, and even unfair, given that Swenson is likely bound by a confidentiality agreement and can’t discuss the allegations. Moreover, people settle lawsuits for a variety of reasons -- not necessarily because they committed the acts they are accused of. Ultimately, voters will have to decide for themselves how much credence to give to the allegations -- which is really all they are at this point.

UPDATE: The Strib's article, written by Rochelle Olson, is now available, and it provides a lot more detail. Click here for some interesting reading.


Hunter Adams said...

thomas f. haeg is the more qualified candidate. check his website.

Tom Haeg said...

We thank Ms. Lore for her attention to these serious charges, but are somewhat confused by her comments on our motives in releasing what limited knowledge we have involving Mr. Swenson.

We were not aware about these charges of discrimination until one week ago. We understand, from polling other judges on the District Court bench that they, too, never received information of this suit and settlement.

We submit that Mr. Swenson had some responsibility to inform his colleagues on the bench of these charges when he was elected chief judge. He also should have notified Minnesota Women’s Lawyers of the nature of the lawsuit--without needing to comment on settlement terms--so they could make a more informed decision in finding him a “Qualified Judge Candidate” during this campaign. In neither case did he share information of this charge, and we believe the Code of Judicial Standards demands more than that.

As a trusted and loyal judicial officer, the complainant Ms. Fallek risked her career to swear under oath facts constituting acts of disability discrimination and hostile work environment against her employer, Mr. Swenson. Her attorney similarly risked his time and reputation.

We also must assume that Mr. Swenson, his legal counsel, and the Attorney General understood the allegations, challenged them as appropriate, and weighed their legal options. Someone with authority to release taxpayer dollars must have examined the veracity of the allegations before awarding such a substantial settlement.

And, for the record, $10,000 seems like a nuisance settlement. Paying out $75,000 in taxpayer dollars is quite a bit more serious.

Mr. Swenson is a public servant whose job is to protect, not to harm. By failing to disclose the existence of this lawsuit, he misled his colleagues, Minnesota Women’s Lawyers, and the public. To blame the “messenger” for this disclosure is without merit. The public deserves more, and we trust the voters will see through this.

Anonymous said...

Of course this particular "messenger" has a motive all his own beyond any sort of public service motivation.