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.