Election 2018: 2nd District (Ramsey County) Judge, Court 2

The two candidates on the ballot:

DeAnne Hilgers (Incumbent)
Thomas Andrew Handley Jr.

DeAnne Hilgers is one of the newest judges on the court: she was appointed in 2017 by Governor Dayton. When I e-mailed Handley to ask if there was some particular reason he was running against Judge Hilgers, he sent me a badly-punctuated e-mail saying that she was incompetent and he thought she’d been given this job as a favor.

FYI, here’s how judges are chosen for appointment. If you want to be a judge, you apply to the Commission on Judicial Selection. Half the members of this committee are appointed by the governor; half are appointed by the State Supreme Court. To apply, you send a detailed resume, up to ten letters of recommendation, and give permission for them to see a bunch of things (including, I think, your tax returns). If you make it to semifinalist, you get interviewed. Finalists are put on a list forwarded to the governor for consideration.

This process has its faults. But no one who gets through it can be reasonably said to have been handed their job as a favor. (This is one of the reasons that I tend to just vote for incumbents: they’ve been heavily, heavily screened for temperament and capability by people who are in a much better position than I am to assess this stuff.)

Handley also claimed that “anyone who works in the Ramsey County Courts knows this and if they were telling the truth would have to concede that what I say is true. The Judges are afraid that if Judge Hilgers loses this election someone might run against them too. So they are hiding the truth from the public.”

Basically any claim that some enormous group is banding together to hide the truth from the public makes me deeply skeptical. Not just of the claims, but of the person making them.

DeAnne Hilgers was an immigration attorney before she became a judge, and worked in civil litigation. I sent her an e-mail to ask her about her process of learning to become a judge, and got a detailed reply:

At the beginning of my work as a judge, I was assigned like other new judges to shadow experienced judges on the criminal bench, then have them shadow me to ensure I was handling cases correctly. I also participated in new judge school, study regularly and have attended conferences for new judges as well as conferences for all state judges. I have purposefully sought out information and feedback from my colleagues and recently had a senior judge sit through four of my calendars as part of a new mentor program the court has started. It was affirming to get such positive feedback from her!

It’s honestly hard to assess an incompetence claim from outside the system but I will also note that Hilgers has a long list of endorsements and Handley has zero, and I don’t believe this is totally the result of people conspiring to hide the truth.

I am going to vote for DeAnne Hilgers.

Edited belatedly to add: a friend has a friend who works in the court system who also thinks that Hilgers is in over her head; someone who left a comment says that Handley opted to not seek or accept endorsements because he didn’t want to be beholden to anyone.

The problem with that approach is that (a) the vast majority of people voting in this race have zero inside information; endorsements are the only way to have any real sense of competence, and (b) not seeking/accepting endorsements really feels to me like applying for a job but refusing to provide references.



11 thoughts on “Election 2018: 2nd District (Ramsey County) Judge, Court 2

  1. Judge Ostby is running as an incumbent but her incumbency has been hollowed out by her own bad behavior. I prefer the fresh present approach I believe we can expect from Revering.

    Ostby been removed (disqualified from handling cases) exponentially more times than any other judge. During the last 5 years,, she was removed 255 times out of the 400+ times all 33 Judge’s were removed. The judge with the closest number had 1/10th of Ostby’s 255 removals. Judge Ostby’s recusal numbers are as bad. And she was prevented from taking cases involving the county prosecutor (all criminal cases) when she was under investigation for intervening in another criminal case to protect her nephew from prosecution–an ethical lapse. This occurred this year, not in the distant past.

    Moreover, for purposes of the court, diversity.involves more than heritage. It is meant to invite in different life experiences. Ostby does not offer a different life experience.

    • FYI, you put this reply on the wrong post; people seeking information on the Ostby-Revering race will not find it here. When I e-mailed Calandra Revering, I got no response. I found nothing about her nephew when I looked her up, and someone leaving an anonymous reply with no sources as a comment on the wrong post does not fill me with confidence.

  2. I respectfully disagree with you on your reasoning behind voting for Hilgers. While her response to your question sounds all nice, it is in fact a testament to her complete lack of awareness and competence as a judge. Yes, the judges go to judge school, get on the job training and shadow a more experienced judge, then are given a chance to do the job themselves while shadowed before flying solo. However, this is done in a fairly short amount of time like a couple of months. It is not rocket science. Judges start off in criminal court on misdeamenor cases because they are pretty straight forward and 80% of all cases that come through Ramsey County are criminal. There are certain protocols, procedures and basic language that go with all cases. There are even cheat sheets that judges can read off of until they are comfortable with what to say. Hilgers still does not understand this. She has been on the bench since 2016 and she is still struggling. I understand there is a learning curve when you start a new job, however, it’s been almost 2 years. She refuses to use the script even though she doesn’t know what to say, she cannot be transferred to felonies which court admin has tried to do twice. Court admin had to hire a retired judge FOR HER specifically to “mentor” her because she just does not get it. This is highly unusual and speaks to the lack of grasping the ability to be a competent judge. Yes , Ramsey county people know this. Talking with prosecutors, public defenders, court reporters, personnel these things have all come up. Yet, this is not “public” knowledge because the legal community is small in Ramsey. You do not talk bad about other judges. These people all have to work with each other on a DAILY basis so yeah, nothing is publically said. What is telling is that there are so many opposed judges this election period in Ramsey County. The people that are opposing them are NOT Michelle Macdonalds or that other atty that stated he just wanted a job. These are public service attorneys that have long distinguished careers in Ramsey County. They know the system, the rules, the statutes. They have seen great, good, satisfactory, not so good, and incompetent judges. They know a thing or two because they’ve seen a thing or two.
    As far as thinking that no appointed judge got their seat as a “favor” because that would be unthinkable? WRONG! To think that the appointments of judges are NOT political is just simply naive. Just look at the recent SCOTUS nomination. And to think the governor really has a say is not true. He has based his decisions on the few people that have been forwarded to his office. There is a reason why there is an open seat for a position. Admirably, the retiring judge did not want an appointee. He wanted the public to decide.
    Lastly as far as endorsements go anyone can get people to write nice things about them. RCBA endorsement, who cares? Any atty can belong to the RCBA as long as you pay your fees. I would bet money that most of the people that voted do not even appear in front of Judge Hilgers. It is the same mentality of, well that person was appointed so obviously is qualified. Just to think that an incumbent judge should automatically get re-elected is lazy, entitled and ignorant.
    There is a reason that Mr. Handley does not have any endorsements. He has specifically stated that he is not taking endorsements or money because he does not want to be beholden to any person, party or group.
    Because a judge was appointed does not mean they are a good judge. It just means that the person had the qualities that COULD make them be a good judge, but unfortunately there is no guarantee. In my opinion there have been far more misses than hits for the Ramsey County Bench in the past several years. Judge Hilgers is a miss.

    • We (by which I mean the general public, outside the court system) have SO FEW WAYS to usefully evaluate judges and judicial candidates. “Do a lot of people in a position to know, think they are, or would make, a good judge” is one of the tiny handful of useful pieces of information we can get. Not seeking or accepting endorsements is not high-minded; it’s malpractice. It’s saying, “I’m awesome and you should just believe me when I say I’m awesome.”

      Hell no, I am not voting for someone with that attitude towards the job. This is like saying, “hire me, but no, I refuse to provide any references.” NOPE.

      • I do agree that it is difficult to find out anything about these candidates and your blog is useful. That is why i replied with the info that i did because i feel it is important to know. Whether you or anyone else reading it takes it to heart or not so be it. I am not saying that you have to vote for Mr. Handley, but he is completely open about his background, career and cases on his website. As far as malpractice, not accepting endorsements or donations may be a poor campaign choice but hardly malpractice. If you want to talk about malpractice how about Judge Hilgers asking only certain defendants in court what their status is as far as immigration goes? That is completely improper, unprofessional and a lack of understanding the case law.

  3. Came across this blog when looking for the election results. Not surprised to see the comments regarding Hilgers. Those of us who have had to experience her outside of Ramsey County Court can tell you that her inability to be impartial and force her own views upon everyone else are just a few of the reasons she should not be on the bench. Ms. Hilgers is so arrogant she actually held lectures at her children’s school about her views on immigration. The problem is that none of the parents were notified prior to this occurring. I want my child to form their own views, I do not need another parent cramming hers down their throat. Her overzealous campaign for re-election was also disturbing.

    • And i am sure those views were not even legally correct. She is even worse on the bench. She forced her views at a continuing legal education seminar where she was NOT the speaker. She kept interrupting the guest speaker, whom she invited to speak, correcting him with incorrect information. It was so bad that two other judges that were attending the seminar jumped in and said that she was totally wrong in her understanding of the law and she cannot question people about their citizenship from the bench.

      Thank you for your comment. I have forwarded it on to friends who deal with her on a regular basis. Sometimes one starts to think maybe we are the only ones who see this behavior?

  4. Alerted to this blog. Yes, the comments regarding Ms. Hilgers behavior out of court are true. What she fails to understand is her arrogant behavior disturbed quite a few people. She did get some people to follow her blindly, I cringe whenever I see one of her re-election signs in a yard. Was not surprised to see the comments regarding her inability to perform the duties of a judge. It galls me that Ms. Hilgers would seek re-election knowing she was not competent at her job. As a taxpayer in Ramsey County I am furious that the court would allow her to continue when it was evident early on that she could not do the job. How much did it cost us to bring in someone to mentor her? How many times did she screw up due to her incompetence? How much did these screw ups cost the taxpayers? I don’t care if it was only misdemeanors it is still unacceptable. She is a liability. Her peers and the public have begun to speak and I have no doubt that even more information will come out as world gets around. Ms.Hilgers should resign. I am not an attorney so perhaps someone could blog about how the people of Ramsey County can accomplish this.

  5. As someone who used to work with Hilgers, I can attest that she is a certified moron who has to have things explained repeatedly, not just legal concepts. She has an unreasonably high opinion of herself, which is totally unwarranted, and seems incapable of learning. I was horrified when I discovered that she had been appointed (and re-elected) as a judge.

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