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Monday, November 3, 2008

The statewide judicial races: An analysis

Minnesota Lawyer doesn’t offer endorsements of judges, so the comments below are strictly my own as someone who has closely followed these races.

Justice Paul Anderson is the second most senior justice on the high court, and was previously the chief judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He takes a scholarly approach to the law, and is the court’s resident historian. He has spearheaded the court’s public outreach efforts and has become its unofficial “goodwill ambassador.” Tim Tingelstad is a magistrate in the 9th Judicial District whose campaign emphasizes his “biblical worldview,” but does not make the case that his qualifications are superior to Anderson’s. (Tingelstad has said that he would decide cases on the facts and law rather than on his religious views, although most of his website, www.highesthill.com, seems to be dedicated to the latter.) Tingelstad strikes me as a sincere individual, but has nowhere near the breadth of experience and support that Anderson has. Anderson is the clear choice here.

Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea vs. Judge Deborah Hedlund

It’s highly unusual for a sitting trial court judge to challenge a sitting Supreme Court justice, which is why this race has generated a lot of interest. Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea just about three years ago after she served a brief stint in the District Court. She has experience as a prosecutor and as an attorney in private practice. Her challenger, Deborah Hedlund, has been a Hennepin County District Court judge for 28 years. Hedlund has made as a center point of her campaign the idea of adding someone with extensive experience on the trial court bench on the Supreme Court. (Gildea, who was on the Hennepin bench for a few months, is the only justice on the seven-justice court who served as a trial judge.) Hedlund also stresses her criminal trial experience. Gildea, on the other hand, counters she has worked on the high court for three years and has “done well.” Indeed, the Minnesota Supreme Court has an excellent reputation and is fairly collegial. Gildea’s transition onto the court did not change that. While I think Hedlund makes a good point that a seasoned trial court judge could add something to the court, I don’t think she’s made the case that that person should be her or that she would make a better justice than Gildea, who is already on the court and has garnered the support of more than 115 appellate attorneys and the majority of State Bar members polled. While this is a closer call than the Anderson/ Tingelstad matchup, I think Gildea is the better choice. (I make this conclusion without regard to the recent curious e-mail dustup involving Hedlund since it is unclear what was actually going on there.)

Court of Appeals

Terri Stoneburner vs. Dan Griffith

Terri Stoneburner spent 10 years as a trial court judge before Gov. Jesse Ventura elevated her to the Court of Appeals eight years ago. She was in private practice for 10 years prior to that. I think that this is the perfect background for a seat on the Court of Appeals, which has as its primary job reviewing trial court cases to determine if an error has been made. Her opponent, Dan Griffith, who is running for a judgeship for the third time, is an attorney in private practice in International Falls. He has emphasized his belief in contested judicial elections as his reason for running rather than making the case he would make a better appellate judge than Stoneburner. I think Stoneburner is the clear choice here.

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