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

Bev Benson

Bev Benson is the candidate with most of the endorsements, from Walter Mondale to a St. Paul School Board member. She’s a county prosecutor and backed by most of her coworkers, she’s endorsed by the Police Officer Federation because she’s a “strong prosecutor” and she’s endorsed by the AFL-CIO.

In her statement at the Star Trib’s MyVote website, she says (among other things), “My prosecution experience, bringing the voices of victims into the courtroom, provides a solid basis to assure all people will have the opportunity to be fully heard.” I don’t know how I feel about that statement. It suggests that she will prioritize the voice of the victims, which is good in cases where the defendant is indeed guilty.

I know, I’m basically impossible to please. If you come in through civil law, I’m going to worry that you lack experience with criminal stuff. If you’re a defense lawyer, I’m going to look at the way you market yourself to lawbreakers and worry that you’ll be shitty to victims, and if you’re a prosecutor, I’m going to worry that you’ll believe everything cops say and ignore the fact that sometimes people DO in fact get railroaded and charged with crimes they had nothing to do with.

Chris Ritts

As far as I can tell he’s not especially conservative. But his website makes him look flaky and not very bright. The text is poorly written and the whole site is badly designed. It’s very similar to the website of InsiderExclusive.com, which has an adulatory 24-minute “documentary” about Chris.

I am really not sure what to make of the InsiderExclusive people. According to their About Us page, it’s an Emmy Award Winning Film crew who are “first and foremost Frontline Activists for justice in addition to being Documentary Film Producers who discover stories often overlooked in mainstream media.” They have all these logos of major networks in a graphic, but I can’t figure out whether their shows air on any of these networks. What the website reminds me of, strongly, are vanity presses marketing their services to naive writers by trying to make you think that if you publish with them, your books will be on the shelves in Barnes & Noble, while never actually lying outright. I mean — I’m not saying that’s what they’re doing, because frankly I can’t figure out what the heck they’re doing, other than making these little twenty-minute movies that have an extremely dramatic introductory voiceover followed by a whole lot of lawyers in suits talking about stuff. (Do people watch these? I guess maybe, I mean, tastes vary. I will admit I was unable to sit through any of them.)

Anyway, they did an extremely adulatory piece that I would describe as a 24-minute campaign commercial for Chris Ritts; you can find it here. It includes the following voiceover line:

“This is Chris Ritts’ story….about Making a difference. About the voice inside him that drives him to want to do The Right Thing: to help people find justice led by a man with a backbone of steel and the heart of a lion. Anyone who cares about equal justice for all and everyone who cares about all of our citizens, from the street sweeper to the CEO should vote for Chris Ritts for HENNEPIN JUDGE because he is a Crusader for Justice.”

I’m going to note that I C&P’d that bit straight from a transcript on the site — they give a transcript for the voiceover though not the interview. I corrected the spelling of Hennepin (they had it as HANNIPN) but left the Dramatic Capital Letter Usage.

I semi-watched the extended campaign ad — I skipped the introductory voiceover, and I was multitasking a bit. Chris gets interviewed by the guy who makes the videos, and they also bring on his clerk and two clients to talk about what a great guy he is. The one bit that kind of caught my attention was when Chris spoke in favor of rehabilitation, against mandatory sentencing, and said that in general he thought judges were too harsh because they wanted to get re-elected and because too many of them arrived at their judgeship via the prosecutor’s office.

So, here’s the thing. I am sympathetic to his views. But his campaign is so poorly put together I’m having a hard time taking him seriously. I should not have to sit through an extended campaign commercial to find out what you think about stuff, and neither should anyone else. In addition to the sparse content, the text on the website is full of punctuation errors.

He does have a few endorsements, mentioned in his Star Tribune candidate profile.

The bottom line is that I’m concerned that Bev is too cozy with the police; I’m concerned that Chris isn’t very bright or competent or even really equipped to judge competency (though obviously he found a few clients to passionately vouch for his competence on camera). I think I would end up voting for Bev, but I have friends in Hennepin County for whom Chris is probably a better fit, at least if they can stand to go sit through that “documentary” to find out what he actually thinks about stuff.

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