Election 2014: 4th District (Hennepin County) Court, Judge 53

I did most of the research on this one a few days ago and then let it sit because it was one of those races where I just didn’t feel like I had that much to say, and for some reason that felt a lot harder to sit down and do than the races where I pretty much can’t shut up.

This is an open seat. Judge Jane Ranum isn’t running again.

Running for this seat:

Bev Benson
Chris Ritts

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Election 2014: 4th District (Hennepin County) Court, Judge 43

One of the oddities this year in Hennepin County is that there are, in fact, three actual open seats in the judicial races. I did a cursory look at all three races and it looks like there’s one that’s a battle between two liberals; one that’s a person with a bunch of supporters vs. a person with no supporters; and one that’s clearly a liberal vs. a conservative.

This one is a liberal vs. a liberal:

PAUL SCOGGIN
BRIDGET ANN SULLIVAN

I’m going to use a cut tag now that I’ve figured out how to do that.

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Election 2014: 4th District (Hennepin County) Court, Judge 16

This one’s going to be a lot shorter than the last one.

Running for this judgeship:

BRUCE MICHAEL RIVERS
JAMES A. MOORE

Bruce Rivers

Bruce Rivers is a criminal defense attorney, and rather than a “why you should vote for me for judge” site, he linked to his professional defense-lawyer website. He makes a reasonable case for why you should hire him as a defense attorney: he’s Board Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, he is certified by the Minnesota Bar Association as a criminal trial specialist, he’s achieved acquittals in all sorts of criminal cases (DUI to Murder I!). He has 16 years of trial experience and has represented 2,000 people. I’m not sure why you’d hire him as a judge, though.

I absolutely believe that everyone has a right to a good defense; our entire system of justice is predicated on criminally accused people having someone competent to work on their behalf. When Adrian Peterson goes to trial for beating the crap out of his child, it will be totally legit for the defense attorney to minimize, justify, and rationalize what he did, because that’s the job of a defense lawyer. On the other hand, when I read stuff like Bruce Rivers’ page on solicitation of a minor (“Many times, the defendant never completed the act with the minor. However, they are charged simply because they communicated in an inappropriate way with the minor”) or domestic assault (“You may also have trouble getting what you deserve during a divorce procedure if convicted of domestic violence”) or sexual assault (“Promiscuity [of the victim] is no longer allowed as a defense except under very limited circumstances. This frustrates many defendants because the fact they know that a victim has had consensual sex with a number of partners, but cannot bring up this fact”) and these pages do not make me think, “oh yeah, I totally want this guy to be a judge.”

I mean — I do actually think a defense lawyer could be a perfectly fine judge. But they need to make a case for themselves. Because a “hire me as your defense lawyer” website really sends the wrong message.

The other thing I found was this rather gushing profile, written last April. (By a professional publicist.) Asked whether he might add a lawyer or two at his firm in the future, he said, “I like the way things are right now. Maintaining focus on the cases I take is what matters, not growing my firm to line my pockets.” …but apparently running for judge was on his immediate to-do list, go figure. (Well, filing for judge, anyway.)

James A. Moore

James is the incumbent. Like most people who get appointed to judgeships, he’s a solid pillar of the community (serving on the board at a charter school, coaching youth basketball, and volunteering as a mock trial judge); he spent many years working in the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office. He has an enviable endorsements list that includes both the trial lawyer’s association and the police federation, Betsy Hodges and Rich Stanek, the State Public Defender, a whole lot of judges, and the AFL-CIO.

Vote for James A. Moore.

Election 2014: Associate Justice – Supreme Court 3

I’m going to be honest: this is the sort of juicy, hilarious trainwreck of a race that I love blogging about. Or at least Michelle’s half of it is; David Lillehaug is thoroughly respectable and has been endorsed by loads of people on both sides. So if you’re really only reading these to get a list of who to vote for, just make sure you vote for David Lillehaug. If you’re not actually in Minnesota anyway and read these because election drama can be so entertaining, go pop yourself some popcorn because you are in for a SHOW.

MICHELLE L. MACDONALD
DAVID LILLEHAUG

(I’m going to use the “More” tag to try to cut this, because it’s long.)

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Election 2014: Associate Justice – Supreme Court 2

The Minnesota Supreme Court has seven justices and is the highest court in the state. The two seats that are up for election this time are both justices who were originally appointed by Mark Dayton; of the other sitting justices, four were appointed by Tim Pawlenty and one, Alan Page, was elected.

Here’s who’s running for this seat:

JOHN HANCOCK
WILHELMINA (MIMI) WRIGHT

Mimi Wright is the incumbent.

John Hancock

John has no website and doesn’t appear to be granting interviews as such, though apparently he will grudgingly answer e-mail. He is (or until recently was?) a Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security, and lives in Nebraska (but I guess is relocating, or …I’m not sure.) The article I linked to above has the following hilarious line: “While Wright said her wealth of experience qualifies her for the position, Hancock, who hasn’t served in a judicial position, said no single career path makes one candidate more prepared than another.” Yeah, so, Mimi Wright served as a law clerk, worked aw a lawyer, worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota, and was appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 2002 by Jesse Ventura, where she worked for ten years before Dayton appointed her to the Supreme Court. Hancock started a private practice after law school, focusing on bankruptcy, real estate, and family law, then became an agent with DHS.

I’m going to go ahead and say she’s a lot more prepared for this job than he is.

Also, no web site, which is a pretty big “kind of a flake” flag anyway, given that he’s not running for dogcatcher but for the Minnesota State Supreme Court.

Wilhemina “Mimi” Wright

As noted above, Mimi was originally appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals by Jesse Ventura, so while she was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Governor Dayton, you would expect that she’s probably someone who would be popular with the libertarian-leaning Republicans as well, and her list of supporters bears that out. It includes both some establishment Democrats (Michael Ciresi, Sharon Sayles-Belton, Michael Freeman) and some moderate or at least old-school Republicans (Arne Carlson, Al Quie).

She is also clearly qualified for the position (see above about her career path), and I see no giant red flags in her list of supporters.

This one’s easy: Mimi Wright.

Election 2014: Rambling on Judicial Races

How to choose judges is not something Americans exactly have a consensus on. In Minnesota, we have elections, but a lot of the time there’s sort of an end run around this by appointing people mid-term so that the first time they stand for election, they’re running with the advantage of incumbency. A few years ago the major parties started endorsing judges — I can’t remember where previously there was a rule against it, or if it was just not the custom. Judicial candidates tend not to trumpet their party endorsements and instead let you know subtly by mentioning various prominent people with known party affiliations as “supporters.”

There’s a group in Minnesota that’s lobbying to change the way we do judicial elections. They suggest a merit-based appointments system after which judges stand election every four years with a yes/no vote. I tend to think this would be a better way to do it, because it means that if someone’s really incompetent we can just focus on getting people to vote NO on that particular judge.

I am not personally an expert on all the different ways out there to pick judges. My father, on the other hand, actually is exactly that sort of expert. Actually, he’s expert on lots of things: he’s a Political Science professor with a specialty in the American judicial system, and he’s studied comparative judicial systems, the effect of contingent fees, mediation, and he did one project we all called the Lawyers in the Mist project where he spent about six months observing lawyers interacting with clients (with the permission of the clients.) Next year, his book Justices on the Ballot: Continuity and Change in State Supreme Court Elections is coming out from Cambridge University Press, and anyone who’s got a strong investment in the question of how we choose judges might want to take a look.

Possibly the finding from my father’s recent research that I found the most entertaining: there really is a town out there that elects its dogcatcher (well, “Animal Control Officer.”) So if you’ve ever heard heard somebody joke that Ole Savior couldn’t get elected dogcatcher, there’s actually a town he could move to where he could, in fact, add that to his collection of electoral losses.

The problem of avoiding partisanship in judicial races is one that doesn’t have a simple solution. My father gave me an extended explanation of a convoluted system that involves merit, a committee that makes recommendations, confirmation by elected officials (but with some rules in place to discourage them from turning anyone down without a good reason), and retention elections.

Alternately, you can just throw in the towel and embrace partisanship, which is more and more what Minnesota is moving to, I think.

Of course, there are all sorts of issues I want to avoid in the judiciary that are not as straightforward as liberal vs. conservative. I am very wary of judges who would assume that the police would never, ever lie (I kind of expect some degree of pro-police bias in judges, but in a situation where a dozen witnesses plus the physical evidence say one thing happened and a police officer says another thing happened, I want a judge who will be willing to at least ENTERTAIN the possibility that the cop is lying.) I am similarly wary of judges who have a bias toward the bigger, wealthier party in lawsuits, or who fail to realize the impact of being the target of a SLAPP suit has on private citizens. Finally, the sad fact is that when people run against incumbent judges, they’re frequently flakes or weirdos. I have a strong anti-flake bias regardless of office.

Anyway, at the moment most judges have dignified, non-partisan web sites that seek to communicate gravitas and hint in only the most discreet ways at whether they’re likely to swing liberal or conservative. Makes it harder. But! We are weeks away from the election so I’d better get going on this.

Just a note: I am only planning to research and write about the contested judicial races. (If there’s a serious write-in campaign happening in any of the uncontested races, please let me know.)

Election 2014: Minneapolis School Board, District 5

Sometimes I do all my research by googling and reading web sites and articles. Other times I have questions I want answered. The problem with asking questions is that I never know how long to wait. On one hand, I don’t want to have to revisit races over and over as responses trickle in. On the other hand, I have both a deadline and a preference for doing things in order.

The other thing that’s hard about questions is that with Minneapolis races, I can no longer truthfully say that I’m trying to make up my mind about who to vote for and leave it at that. And when you tell people that you’re a political blogger trying to decide who to endorse, people get really wary, like they think you’re an absolute nut, at least if they haven’t heard of you.

Anyway, since I’m waiting on responses, it’s possible I’ll have to revisit this one. We’ll see.

The Minneapolis School Board has both at-large seats (there are two open, and four candidates; I wrote about that post already) and Districts (which are the same as the Park Board districts). I was happy when they implemented districts because as a Minneapolis parent who did not live in the bottom left-hand corner of the city I felt rather thoroughly ignored a lot of the time. It was particularly infuriating to drive past the gleaming windows of brand-new schools in Southwest Minneapolis when the district had spent years and years and years letting a closed-down school four blocks from me sit empty. (Not finding a new use for it, not selling it, just letting it sit there.)

They implemented the district-based seats four years ago and in fact almost immediately they came up with something to do with Howe. (They re-opened it, actually — it’s now grades 3-5 for Hiawatha-Howe, with grades K-2 down at Hiawatha. I have mixed feelings about that solution, but whatever, you know what, at least it’s not SITTING THERE EMPTY so I WILL TAKE IT.)

The guy who served as the District 5 school board rep for the last four years decided not to run again because it’s a high-stress full-time job that pays less than $15K/year. The candidates:

NELSON INZ
JAY LARSON

Nelson Inz

Let me just note quickly that if you go to the Secretary of State site and look up candidates, they’ll give you a link for Nelson’s website, but their link is wrong. They send you to a .com site, and it’s a .org site. I e-mailed Nelson’s campaign and suggested they call and have it fixed; I would expect that to be do-able but annoying. As of today, it’s not fixed. Fortunately for Nelson, he is VERY VERY easy to find with Google.

He’s endorsed by the DFL and by a long list of prominent local DFLers, including Jim Davnie (my former State Rep and one of my favorite politicians). There isn’t much on his website about issues, but as noted before, it’s rare that anyone says something in this race that everyone running wouldn’t sign on to.

The thing I found most interesting and startling about Nelson is that he’s a charter school teacher running for a district school board seat. (He’s actually served on a school board in the past — each charter school has its own board that hires and fires school administrators, allocates money from the budget, etc. Frequently some of the seats are reserved for teachers.) And, he’s endorsed by the DFL. I find this startling because charter schools have blown back up into controversy this year — Don Samuels is a fan of charter schools, and this is viewed by a fair number of people in the DFL as a good reason not to support him.

I e-mailed Nelson because I was curious how he was walking this particular line. I asked him to talk about his beliefs about charter schools vs. district-based public schools, and what the thought the Minneapolis school board’s attitude ought to be toward charter schools: partners? rivals? something else? He replied a day later to invite me to call him. I haven’t, because he said evenings were better and my evenings are pretty busy. (I think it’s safe to assume he doesn’t want me ringing him up at 11 p.m., especially given that he has twin toddlers.)

Anyway, I actually have a lot of optimism that someone who works for a charter school but was able to get the DFL endorsement might bring a balanced attitude toward charters. (Or, if he brings a superlatively negative attitude, at least it’ll be from a position of intimate knowledge?)

Jay Larson

Jay Larson is an MPS parent and mentions a lot of volunteering: he chairs the Site Leadership committee at his kids’ school (I’m not actually sure what that does), he’s on the PTA, and he represents Area B on the District Parent Advisory Committee. (I’m not actually sure what the DPAC does, either. When my kids were enrolled at Minneapolis Public schools, one of the things that drove me nuts were the endless robocalls, some of which were for things like the Area B Parent Somethingorother Meeting.)

His platform emphasizes that he’s an MPS parent. (I’ll note that Nelson is a parent, but not of an MPS kid; his twins are still toddlers.) He believes in strong community schools; since that’s kind of a no-brainer, I’m not sure if he’s actually trying to say that magnet schools are a bad idea or what. He wants to “support our awesome teachers.”

He lists no endorsements.

Anyway, I e-mailed him and asked him what he felt set him apart from the other candidate and made him different. He replied fairly promptly and asked me what my specific concerns were. (“In an effort to best answer your question, are there any specific things you know or are aware of in District 5 that concern you or hope to see different over the next few years?”) The District 5 specific concern I came up with: I know someone who wanted to send their kid to South High, whose kid was assigned to Roosevelt. This family pulled their kids from MPS entirely and sent them to a private school. I wanted to know what his solution would be here. Not so much because I feel like there’s a clear-cut right or wrong answer, just because I was hoping to get some sense of how he thinks about these problems.

He didn’t reply; it’s been four days. So, yeah, I don’t know. He said in his initial reply to me that he’s been getting several e-mails a day about his candidacy (suggesting that this was pretty burdensome) which makes me concerned that he has no real idea how much work serving on the school board entails. Also, “what makes you different from the other guy” is one of the most basic political campaign questions ever. It can be hard when you’re running against people whose values you generally share, but SURELY you have a reason why you continued your campaign instead of saying, “you know what, the other guy looks great. You should just vote for him.” Right? So tell me what that reason is!

My recommendation here is Nelson Inz. He’s qualified; his endorsements combined with his work history suggest that he’ll bring a balanced attitude toward charter schools, which I think is a good thing; he’s running energetically for the job.