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.

Paul Scoggin

Paul’s website says “Vote for Experience” in big letters on the front. His experience is heavily in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, where he worked as a prosecutor. He spent ten years focusing specifically on the prosecution of violent crimes. Digging around for old news stories that mentioned him, I found a story from 2012 about him prosecuting a scammer who promised to help undocumented immigrants get work visas, but not only didn’t help them, checked into whether he could turn them in for a rewards. (That is a prosecution I strongly approve of. As the icing on the cake, the scammer was himself an undocumented immigrant who got deported after serving time, or will be deported on release, I’m not sure.)

His supporters list includes Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman (that one’s not surprising — it would be a pretty big red flag if his former colleagues were voting for his opponent); Congressman Keith Ellison; Sheriff Rich Stanek; former Secretary of State Joan Growe; former State Auditor Judi Dutcher; school board member Rebecca Gagnon; and former State Senator Wes Skoglund. He’s also endorsed by the Minneapolis Police Federation, the AFL-CIO, and the Academy of Certified Trial Lawyers of Minnesota.

That is a supporters list that makes me a little bit twitchy because he might be a little overly law-and-order-y, a little too willing to believe that whatever a police officer says is true. Which is not super surprising for someone coming to a judge’s race after working for many years as a prosecutor. I’m also kind of struck by the fact that Wes Skoglund is listed but not any of my favorite State Legislators who are a little more recent. (Wes served in the MN State House from 1975 through 2002, then switched to State Senate for part of one term after being redistricted into a spot where he overlapped with another DFL incumbent. I think he took over for Julie Sabo when she quit the Senate to run for Lt. Governor, then didn’t run again. Anyway, he has been retired for a good long while now.)

In hunting for more info I found this piece in which all the people running for contested seats answered a questionnaire. Paul noted that he’s “worked as a prosecutor in developing countries where few people trust their judiciary. I understand the importance of an impartial and transparent judiciary” — he’s done stuff internationally, which is cool, and it’s nice to see that underscored.

Bridget Ann Sullivan

Bridget has had a wide range of experiences. She’s been a clerk for a judge twice, which is good experience for someone who wants a judgeship. Her first law job was at one of the big firms in town, Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly, where she did litigation; from there she went to another big firm, Faegre & Benson, and passed a patent law exam just in time to come down with cancer and have to “scale back on work for a brief time.” After which she landed at a much smaller law firm, then clerked again for a while, then worked at DLA Piper, from which she got laid off in 2008 when the economy imploded. She found yet another job, got interested in how technology was changing legal practice, and got certified as an electronic discovery expert.

Mixed in with all of this was volunteerism and pro bono work: she mentions working as a Guardian ad Litem, doing pro bono work in family court representing victims of domestic abuse, and helping a Liberian man get asylum.

Looking at her resume, she is definitely someone who has changed jobs a lot. She had some good reasons (cancer, layoffs) but I can’t tell if the sheer volume of jobs should be a little bit of a red flag. Or if it should be the opposite — she’s got experience in such a wide variety of stuff, surely that would be useful to a judge, right? I’m not sure.

She talks in a lot more detail than Paul about what sort of judge she wants to be on her My Intentions page. On talking about how judges make decisions, she says that she will try to rely on careful consideration and not intuition (she thinks that leaning too heavily on intuition is a recipe for bias); she adds, “I will always challenge my own interpretations of the facts,” which is a nice promise to make, if a hard one to keep.

She has some specific ideas for improving civil court procedures. She thinks discovery takes too long, driving up costs. I … have no idea whether that’s actually true, but she’s citing the final report of the Minnesota Supreme Court Civil Justice Reform Task Force. Her specific promise here: “As a judge, I plan to strictly enforce the new rules and the Task Force’s recommendations. As an attorney, I have witnessed and participated in long drawn out discovery battles that rarely produced admissible evidence. I will require a formal case management conference for every case in civil court and require the parties to substantively discuss what discovery is required. I will also implement an expedited procedure for discovery and other nondispositive motions. I will make myself and my courtroom available for consultation during difficult depositions so that deposition battle tactics that are too common but a waste of time can be resolved with a call to chambers. And because I am an expert in electronic discovery, I will particularly require the parties to make focused discovery requests for electronic information.”

So, as a non-expert, that all sounds good, and yet I have only a vague idea of what the ramifications of any of this would be.

She goes on to talk about how Alternative Dispute Resolution works in California’s northern district; she says that all civil cases are required to attempt ADR. (Here’s a web page describing the various types.) As a lawyer, she went through neutral evaluation, which sounds terrific, actually. I looked up neutral evaluation in Minnesota and it looks like something used in family court but not anywhere else. Anyway, she is a big fan of ADR; she says that as a judge she will encourage the parties to “engage in meaningful settlement discussions earlier than what normally occurs.” She sill also urge the other judges to implement a case settlement pilot program where a second judge (as opposed to the one assigned to the case) acts a mediator, and she’ll volunteer to be that mediator if they go for it. (Which seems like she could be volunteering for an impractical amount of work, but maybe she doesn’t think very many people will take her up on it, or that other judges will see the benefits and also volunteer.)

Finally, she talks about the problem of pro se parties in the Hennepin County courts (that would be people acting as their own lawyer). Apparently there are a LOT, like more than half. The non-lawyers representing themselves slow everything down. She wants to work with Legal Aid and other similar groups to try to get better pro bono representation for people who need it: “There are too many attorneys in the Twin Cities for us to continue to allow thousands of people to appear in court unrepresented.”

Given Paul’s experience with criminal law and Bridget’s experience with civil law, I wondered which they’d probably be doing. The judge they’re replacing is Janet Poston, and she’s done both. (Actually, you can see all the judges and where they’re assigned on this convenient page and if you pull up individual judges, you’ll see that some of them get moved around a bunch. Like there’s one guy that seems to alternate between juvenile and criminal, people who move from family to criminal and back again, etc.) So my guess is that if Paul gets elected, he’ll work in criminal court; if Bridget gets elected, she’ll work in civil court or possibly they’ll say, “ohhhh you’re a fan of alternative dispute stuff, huh? let’s have you do family court for a while.” I have no idea who makes the assignments or how that even works. (In trying to find that out, I found this beautifully written, straightforward little document that did not answer my question but did give me a better sense of how the courts system is structured.)

In looking for more information on Bridget — old news stories, for instance — I discovered that she shares a name with Lizzie Borden’s Irish maid. (You know, Lizzie Borden who allegedly took an ax and according to scurrilous gossip may have given her father forty whacks, though I’ll note she was acquitted.) Once I added “mn” to the Google search I turned up Bridget’s LinkedIn, which mentions she volunteered for Minnesotans United (the marriage-equality group); she was on the board of directors of District 202, a drop-in center for LGBT youth that existed for years but dissolved in a mix of infighting and inability to really adjust to the current set of needs, from what I read. They merged with the Minneapolis Family Partnership, which she also served on the board of directors for.

Her supporters list is shorter than Paul’s and does not include any large groups. But it does include State Senators Scott Dibble and Patricia Torres-Ray, State House Reps Susan Allen and Karen Clark, as well as a long list of lawyers she’s worked with.

In trying to hunt up more information, I ran across this excellent overview that makes pretty much all the same observations as I did (with the addition of saying some people think Paul is arrogant, and he agrees that this is a fair rap but also says he’s “grown as a lawyer,” especially since his international experiences.

I’m going to hold off on making an endorsement in this race and see if anyone can add anything, particularly on Bridget’s ideas on ADR and Paul’s reputation for arrogance (says who? based on what?) Frankly, both of these people look to me like they’d probably be good judges.

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