When I looked at the candidate lists yesterday I missed the fact that there were in fact two contested judicial races for district courts in Hennepin County.
4th District Court 37
Carolina A. Lamas (incumbent)
Luke Kyper Bellville
4th District Court 45
Paul R. Scoggin (incumbent)
I’ll do the 4th District Court 37 first.
Judge Carolina Lamas is a relatively recent appointee — she came to the bench in 2014, appointed by Governor Dayton. She’s relatively young, having graduated from law school in 2003. (Not scandalously young. But probably younger than me.) She’s an immigrant from Peru and prior to becoming a judge, she worked as a public defender and for a nonprofit that serves indigent people who’ve been charged with felonies.
Looking for news stories about her turned up a piece about Hennepin County judges doing free weddings for people on Valentine’s Day this year, and she set a typical (rather than an extremely high) bail for someone back in February. Searching on the guy’s name turned up no additional articles, so I’m not sure whether his trial is still pending or what. (Also, protecting the public is not supposed to be what bail is for; you’re innocent until proven guilty. You’re only supposed to be denied bail, or given an extremely high bail, if you’re a flight risk, at least that’s the theory as I understand it.)
Anyway, overall she seems to be doing a fine job.
If you visit Luke Bellville’s site you’ll probably have the same first thought I had, which is, “wait…Tripod still exists?”
Luke appears to have a family and enjoy sitting in grassy settings. He emphasizes his deep local roots, which I initially read as a fairly standard iteration of Minnesota parochialism (there are people in both Minneapolis and St. Paul who will brag about how they never ever go to the other city, which always makes me want to speculate that they’re secretly a vampire who can’t cross water) but having read up on Carolina Lamas I’m now wondering if he’s trying to channel anti-immigrant sentiment. He also says, “I, having grown up in the inner-city of Minneapolis, have little tolerance for violent crimes, and feel they are the number one thing in the modern era that needs addressing.” So possibly he’s mad about the low bail or that one guy, or again, this actually sounds a little dogwhistle-y.
He does not even hint at any actual qualifications to work as a judge, like having gone to law school. Which is weird, because he appears to indeed be a lawyer. I found his LinkedIn, which adds another odd thing to the mix — he talks about attending the U of M Twin Cities on both his “hire me to be your lawyer” page and his “vote for me for judge” page but he got his JD in North Dakota. Which is a perfectly reasonable place to get a law degree so why he wants to cover up this fact is bizarre. (And, I mean, on his “vote for me” page, he gets really detailed: “I am a fourth generation Minnesotan who grew up on the West Bank in Minneapolis. I attended Marcy Open Elementary school when it was still on Como Avenue, then Anderson Junior High off Lake Street, and South High School off Cedar Avenue. After this I graduated from the University of Minnesota on the Twin Cities Campus.” Like, you considered it important that you attended Marcy Open but you didn’t want to tell us where you went to law school?)
Anyway, the tl;dr here is that this guy is a flake. Vote for Carolina Lamas.
On to Court 45.
4th District Court 45
So two years ago, Paul Scoggin was running against Bridget Ann Sullivan for an open seat and I wrote about it. I thought they both sounded like strong candidates who’d make excellent judges. And in fact Sullivan won the election but Scoggin was appointed to fill an opening the following year.
I went looking for news articles about Scoggin and didn’t turn up anything about his work as a judge. Interestingly, though, I did find a news article from 2013 about a criminal case that he prosecuted and his opponent in the race defended: Minneapolis man who wrecked Lamborghini gets six months in workhouse. The case involved this idiot who was hired to repair, then store, a Lamborghini. (Presumably for the winter months.) He took it for an unauthorized drunken joyride and wrecked it. Then he tried to bill it to insurance and lied about the accident. Honestly, click and read, the whole story is sort of hilarious in an “omg what an idiot” kind of way. (I’ll note that I did some follow-up googling fascinatingly enough, his auto shop is not only still in business but doing fine. He must be one hell of a mechanic. It appears that he committed himself to sobriety and stuck with it, so hurray for the wake-up call he got working as I’m sure everyone hoped.)
Anyway, both Chris Ritts and Paul Scoggin were doing their jobs as expected in that case — I don’t think either did anything wrong. Reading the article I felt a bit more sympathy for the prosecutor, but there’s nothing wrong with defending someone guilty, I mean that’s solidly part of the job of a defense lawyer. I’m not sure how good a deal Chris got for his client — this was a plea deal — but when a guy digs himself that sort of ten-foot pit before he calls you, there’s only so much you can do. (Oh, wait. Plus he had priors, according to the Strib article. He must be an amazing mechanic to still be in business.)
Two years ago, Chris Ritts was running against Bev Benson for an open seat and I wrote about it. I thought Bev sounded a little too cozy with the police but I thought Chris sounded super flaky and not overly bright.
His website is less embarrassing now, though it definitely telegraphs “campaign committee of one.”
Searching for news stories on him turns up a couple of different stories about his work as an attorney. He defended a Maple Grove City Council Rep who stole money from her elderly father while working as his caregiver. (Maybe Brad Gerten, R-51A, should give Ritt a call.) Ritt has also worked for the family of a man killed by a Plymouth police officer and won a settlement for a man who sued a St. Paul police officer for excessive force.
The fact that he has only a single endorsement (vs. Soggins’ long list of endorsements) makes me think less “courageous outsider” and more “the people who know this guy don’t actually think he should be a judge,” though.
I would vote for Scoggins.
Did you see that Ritts was the defense attorney for Lamborghini dude??!!
Yep! That’s part of why the case caught my eye.
Thank you so much for your research and for making my ballot decisions a whole lot easier.
Great info! I was doing my research for the ballot and you confirmed what I had decided, and also enlightened me in one of the races.
Hi! This is my first time reading your blog. I was doing some research on the candidates before casting my ballot which is how I stumbled upon your site. This is fantastic! I’ll be sure to come back for more info from you. Thanks!
Thank you for this! Super helpful!
Ritts’ endorsement is one hell of an endorsement from former State Supreme Court Justice Sandy Keith though. It’s hard to ignore and makes me lean more towards him.
I do wish we could get more information on the judges. It’s so hard to make an informed decision about them.
Thank you for your efforts
thank you for your research and comments. I find it surprising that so little information on Judge’s are available — appreciate you taking the time to provide information
This is fantastic information! Thank you so much for pulling this together, really helpful for those of us who don’t have six hours to devote to intense googling 🙂
I’ve only read this one post so far, but I love your blog. Especially the comments on Marcy Open School. Deliciously snarky yet gets at actual old Minneapolis prejudices.
Three days after this blog, the article titled “So many judicial races, so few challengers” at minnlawyer.com sheds some additional light on the choices, along with the Associate Justice – Supreme Court 6 challenge.
With regards to Ritts not having endorsements – I found the Sun Current article which explains this – I think it makes perfect sense. Here is the quote and the link to read the full bio so as to not take anything out of context:
“Also, it is absurd that law enforcement, the county attorney or anyone endorse judicial candidates. The judge then appears to be, and may in fact be, beholden to the endorser. My opponent’s website lists mainly former prosecutors and law enforcement as endorsees.”
I would rethink the vote for Scoggins and strongly consider a vote for Ritts.
Thank you thank you thank you for covering these local races!
So helpful, thank you. Judges are tricky to research.
Super helpful as i review my ballot for tomorrow. Thank you!
Thank you very much for doing this research! You’re the best source of information for these candidates 🙂
Thanks for doing this digging, and all the detail of your thought process. It really helped!
Very helpful. I already knew what to think about the (very few) other contests in Minnesota, but I didn’t know anything about these races. I’m doing one more quick search, then going to vote.
Near as I can tell, the same Luke Bellville is now running for at-large representative on the Saint Paul Public Schools school board this year.
Weiiiiiiiird. Still no updates to Tripod.