Election 2018: Ramsey County Judge, Court 11

“Court 11” seems to refer to the seat that’s open, but I can’t figure out which judge is in it right now. That person is apparently not running for re-election as the seat seems to be wide open. There are four people running, two of whom will progress to the November ballot.

I just want to note for the record that I think this is a bad way to choose a judge. Even more than any other elective seat, I’m not in a good position to decide whether someone’s going to be good at the job. The Committee on Judicial Selection, which you apply to and which recommends appointments to the governor, and which was handling two seats this year, seems genuinely more qualified to me. (I have no idea why this seat wasn’t filled that way!)

(I’d also prefer retention elections to the system we’ve got now. In a retention election, you vote “should we keep this person, Y/N” when their term expires, and if people vote N, a new person gets appointed.)

The vast majority of what judges do isn’t partisan. “Did this person steal a car?” is not a particularly political question. But of course, politics leak in in all sorts of ways. I don’t want a judge who’s going to discriminate against a gay parent in a child custody case. I don’t want a judge who doesn’t take violence against women seriously. I don’t want a judge who assumes that police officers are always telling the truth. Etc.

Anyway — somewhat frustratingly, I’m going to note — all four of the candidates for this open seat appear to be basically fine and decent people who’d probably be good judges. Here they are:

Scott Michael Flaherty
Adam Yang
Jeffry Martin
Gregory J. Egan IV

Scott Michael Flaherty

Flaherty is a partner at a large law firm, Briggs and Morton, and you can read his professional bio on their site. He does a mix of stuff, but mostly IP-related law. He went to Washington University in St. Louis and graduated from law school at the University of Iowa, which is a respectable set of academic credentials.

He’s gay, which I mention because it’s a solid indicator that he’s not a secret religious conservative and is unlikely to discriminate against gay defendants or treat the “gay panic” defense as anything other than an admission of a hate crime.

He teaches as an adjunct at the UST law school, serves on the ACLU MN board, and is a board member at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center. I checked out his Facebook page and discovered that he also SCUBA dives as a hobby and has a sense of humor about jokes about why lawyers and sharks get along just fine.

He also has a well-put-together website that he had up and running early. (All four candidates have web pages, but his is the only one that’s linked from the candidate list.)

He has a supporters list that includes some impressive people like former justices on the Minnesota Supreme Court, and a whole lot of names I don’t recognize.

Adam Yang

Adam Yang is a public defender (he works in the Hennepin County public defender’s office, which is slightly disconcerting, but that’s one of the jobs where there’s no particular reason that you’d have to live where you work, since they just hire you instead of making you run.) He works in the juvenile justice unit. He’s a Hmong immigrant and is a founding member of the Hmong American Bar Association.

He graduated from the U of M with a BS and MS (I think) in Aerospace Engineering, and went to Hamline law school.

He believes that judges should be fair, patient, respectful, and open-minded, and this right here sort of sums up the problem with giving the “choose a judge” job to randos like me. I am really confident that all four of these people would agree strongly that judges should be fair, patient, respectful, and open-minded, while also assuring me that they themselves exemplify all of these qualities (and they very well might!)

If you want to, you can watch Adam get introduced and then declare his candidacy. His Facebook page has info about events; his campaign has spent a lot of time going to fairs and parades to meet people. He doesn’t have an endorsements list, which is too bad. Honestly, endorsements are one of the more meaningful signposts to me in elections like this.

Jeffry Martin

Jeff Martin has an atrociously designed web page with one of the most dubious URLs I’ve ever seen, which he got up and running at the very end of June. His current job is working as the Deputy Director for the Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity at the City of St. Paul; before that, he was in solo practice for a few years, and before that he was President of the St. Paul branch of the NAACP. While President of the NAACP he commented pretty cynically about the skyway tasering incident; called for an investigation of a police shooting of a Black man; and expressed significant reservations about the SPPS restructuring plan pushed through by Silva.

So in the “won’t automatically believe testimony from cops” category, he’s solid.

Here’s what I see as the biggest argument in favor of Jeffry Martin: of the four candidates here, he’s the one who is least likely to ever be recommended by a judicial selection committee, because of his work for the NAACP and his previous statements about police, which are mildly phrased but still negative. The only way to get someone like this as a judge is probably to vote him in.

But I’m also seeing a lot of red flags. There are these weird discrepancies between his campaign website and other information about him. For example, his campaign website emphasizes his work as a prosecutor. (“Jeff’s passion for equity and equality drew his desire to be part of the Minnesota Second Judicial District Courts, where he served as a Prosecutor in the City of Saint Paul Courts, Prosecutor in the Ramsey County District Courts, and the position of Public Defender in Ramsey County District Courts.”) But his LinkedIn resume lists his Prosecutor work as lasting exactly 1 year, followed by three years as a public defender. He also says he has a Masters in Community Ministry Leadership from Bethel Seminary; that’s not a degree they mention offering, although maybe they did in 2012? Bethel itself is a bit of a red flag as it’s really conservative.

Finally, his resume has a lot of job-hopping that’s just … maybe not a red flag? I don’t know. After getting his law degree, he worked for one year at a nonprofit providing defense to the indigent, one year as a prosecutor, three years as a public defender. Then he worked for three years at William Mitchell doing career counseling; during that time he was also working for Criminal Defense Services Inc, which is a nonprofit that provides reduced-rate lawyers for people who don’t qualify for a public defender. I’m pretty sure that was a volunteer job, basically, but that fills in a two-year gap between when his job at Mitchell ended and a new job as a lawyer started (Bankruptcy/Personal injury, this time). That job lasted 2.5 years, and then he went to work as NAACP President. He stayed in that job for 6 years. He’s then listed as a solo-practice attorney for 1 year 8 months, after which he got hired as a Deputy Director at the City of St. Paul, where he’s been for just over a year.

The main thing this resume suggests to me is someone with a law degree who doesn’t actually like working as a lawyer.

His resume and website are also sprinkled with grammatical errors and typos, which suggests a sort of casual level of attention to detail, which might explain why he doesn’t enjoy legal practice.

Gregory J. Egan IV

Greg’s campaign was noteworthy for lit-dropping my husband’s car while he was at church. This had me worried that Greg would be a religious conservative, but he pretty clearly isn’t. (He mentions supporting Gender Justice, an advocacy group that supports trans people, which was reassuring.)

He’s a public defender and emphasizes repeatedly that he works in Ramsey County, which made me roll my eyes a bit. (There’s a particular strain of St. Paulite that treats anything across the river as contaminated and that doesn’t seem to be Egan’s situation but he does sound like he’s trying to appeal to that group: “While he respects the good work of all three of his opponents, Mr. Egan is the only active practicing trial attorney working exclusively in Ramsey County. He has been a public servant most of his career and with great humility looks forward to continuing to serve residents and litigants in the place he has long been proud to call home.”)

Which is weird, because he got his undergraduate degree at Northwestern (the one in Illinois), and he studied and worked in Chile. His wife is an immigrant from Honduras, and Egan is heavily involved with the immigrant community: he serves as a pro-bono attorney for churches providing sanctuary, he serves as a youth mentor through CLUES, he teaches English as a second language through the Rondo Library, and he’s on the Board of Directors of Green Card Voices.  I don’t think he’s actually Hispanic himself, but he’s deeply involved in the community and was endorsed by Latino American Today, a local freebie paper. (Egan’s page says he was endorsed by their editorial board; I couldn’t find much in the way of an editorial board on their website, but the owner also endorsed Tim Pawlenty, so take that for what it’s worth.)

More reassuringly, his “Testimonials” page has an endorsement from Dave Pinto (my House Rep, who I like a lot) and a genuinely moving testimonial from a mother whose son was represented by Egan after getting into trouble with the law: “He really, really cares about his clients and about justice. I was nervous at first about how much attention my son and my family would get because I know what high case loads public defenders have. But Greg cared. And he always made time, regardless of how busy he was. He made us feel valued and listened to. He always called back. … Greg made my son a real person in the courtroom. He made my son stand out. He went above and beyond the call of duty and did exceptional work for my son and our family.”

I have to say, I know a lot of people who’ve hired lawyers for one reason or another at some point (or had a lawyer hired for them) and I don’t know very many who would write a passionate testimonial about how much their lawyer cared about them.

Greg’s picture makes him look about 25, which is sort of funny given that he says he’s been a long-time public defender, but it’s probably just good lighting. (He’s surely at least 30.)

I think my inclination would be to vote for Greg for the following reasons:

  • He’s endorsed by Dave Pinto. (Dave, incidentally, is endorsing him as an opponent — Dave works in the Ramsey County Prosecutor’s office.)
  • Everyone running has volunteer credentials, but Greg’s are deep and focused, and he has testimonials from people he’s worked with, making it really clear he didn’t pad his resume.
  • That testimonial from the mother is really genuinely compelling and speaks to his patience and his commitment to justice, two traits that are hard to measure and really important in a judge.

But I may change my mind if new information rolls in.

Edited to add: got a testimonial from a Twitter follower about Scott Flaherty:

So now I’m undecided again. (I approve of lawyers who fight to enforce the Freedom of Information Act, and I would like judges on the bench who are not impressed by bullshit excuses from law enforcement.)

Edited to add:

I met Scott Flaherty in person and liked him a lot. He was smart, thoughtful, with a sense of humor. I asked him what he thought the most important skill for a judge was, and how he’d honed that skill, and he said listening, which he’d honed through depositions, and talked a bit about taking depositions and how critical it was to be 100% dialed in so you’d catch it if the transcript didn’t have the key thing you needed testimony about. I thought that was a good answer. I served on a jury in 2016: at the beginning of the trial, my juror oath included promising to pay attention, and yeah, it is work to listen to people as much as you need to. He also talked a lot about empathy for people in court, how important it is to recognize that this may be the worst day of their life.

Anyway, I liked him a lot and I think he’ll be a good judge, so I’ll be voting for him on Tuesday.

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5 thoughts on “Election 2018: Ramsey County Judge, Court 11

  1. I have much the same issues with electing judges that you’ve laid out. The last time I went digging through positions and policies and websites for judges, it was like they had copy and pasted from some archetypical website. They all told me that they were going to be fair and honest and abide by the law. Which is great, but not really what I need to know in order to figure out who I should be voting for. On the other hand, on our way up to Asheville, I passed one campaign sign for a judge that clearly indicated that I would never vote for them.

    they listed two primary qualifications for why they should be judge. The first was that they were the most qualified. The second was that they were guided by their faith. As I commented to my husband, I think those are mutually exclusive. The most qualified judge ought to be guided by the law. Alas.

    • Yeah, sometimes one of the candidates will trumpet that they are going to ENFORCE GOD’S LAW and that makes it easy. Or they’ll have some dogwhistley thing that makes it pretty clear I don’t want to vote for them.

  2. (I still live in Massachusetts. I just read this because it’s so interesting.)
    I completely agree with you about the problems with electing judges. I understand why we DO it…I just cringe sometimes, watching government executives appoint/hire people to important positions.

    You mention job-hopping as a red flag on Jeff Martin’s resume. I am not in ANY way advocating that a person vote for a Bethel grad or a former prosecutor or somebody who is sloppy about details. But Martin’s resume looks like that of somebody struggling with the fact that defending the indigent won’t pay off his student loans. So he does it for a year then goes to work as a prosecutor, then tries to do it part time while he has a day job that doesn’t require him to do horrible things to poor minorities.

  3. Thanks. I came across your blog this morning, courtesy of a share on Facebook.

    I spent a few hours yesterday examining judicial candidates in Ramsey County and came away with three of the four candidates still on my list. I agree with much of what you’ve written, particularly about Jeffry Martin, who is no longer on my list. I am leaning toward Flaherty but have some reservations about him. He’s only been in practice for 11 years and has had a pretty narrow area of practice, one that is most often exercised in the federal courts. (I’m an attorney myself.) Other than that, his resume looks a good deal like one I’d build if I were shooting for a seat on the bench. I watched a few videos of his appearances before our appellate courts and he performed admirably. He was well prepared, articulate, and handled question well. He knew what he was talking about. Did he do the work himself or was he simply the spokesperson? I don’t know. The latter is a possibility coming from a firm as large as Briggs and Morgan.

    I am bothered by a few things on his campaign site. He tries to build cred for a claim of broad experience by stating that he has represented people in criminal cases who had faced a total of 250 years in prison. That’s a meaningless claim for anyone who knows anything about criminal law and he should know that. He makes a similar claim for the amount of money involved in the cases he’s handled. Again, I can only say, “So what?” Plaintiffs’ claims are almost universally overstated and the amount at issue has nothing to do with the complexity of the case or the subtleties of the law involved.

    I don’t recall seeing anything about his time in a court room, which is what really counts for me, in whatever area of law. My best guess is that he’s got a lot to learn about it. I should add here that he lays claim to involvement in a number of major cases, but never says what his role was in those cases. There is a big difference between first chair (lead attorney) and the various supporting roles one may hold, particularly in a very large firm.

    His seemingly impressive list of supporters doesn’t impress me. At least two of the big names are of counsel to Briggs and Morgan, where Flaherty works. I recognize others as DFL party members. Most of the names mean nothing to me, as I have no idea whether they have any practical basis for evaluating a judicial candidate.

    I’m also concerned about why he would choose to seek a seat on the bench at his age. He hasn’t been at Briggs long enough to have topped out either professionally or economically.

    All in all, Flaherty is my leading candidate at the moment but not by much. The more I consider him, the less confident I am.

    Also on my list for further consideration are Egan and Adam Yang. Egan has only 9 years in practice, but as a public defender I can be assured he’s spent a great deal of time in the courtroom. At the same time, he likely has little to no experience in civil matters or any knowledge of the law in those areas other than that he may retain from law school. (That may be a point in his favor, as he may have developed no bias in those areas. In my experience, for example, former personal injury attorneys tend to be biased in favor of personal injury plaintiffs.) His endorsements, though far fewer than Flaherty’s, come from people with courtroom experience with judges, some of whom work the other side of the street in criminal matters. Those count with me. His blatant appeal to Latino voters, seemingly based on his wife’s ethnicity, does not. (Yes, I know it’s politics.) I suspect he would be a capable judge.

    That brings me to Adam Yang, a man with 20 years of practice, 17 of which he spent as a public defender. I assume he’s running in part because he’s tired of being overworked. That said, he (and Egan) probably know what a judge’s workload is in real life. (As I said, I haven’t seen any information on Flaherty’s time in a trial court room. I also do not see any experience clerking for a district judge.) I am bothered by the lack of information available on him or endorsement by those familiar with his work. I likely will not be voting for him without significantly more information.

  4. Thank you for doing this research! I got my absentee ballot yesterday and was puzzled why there was no incumbent for Judge 11.
    For that matter I suppose I really shouldn’t be automatically voting for the incumbent in the other races…in googling the Judge 11 race I also saw that the incumbent in one of the other races had a .17 DWI earlier this year.

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