Election 2020: Ramsey County Judge (2nd District, Court 8)

I think this is the only contested District Court race in either Hennepin County or Ramsey County. (There is a contested race for the Supreme Court, which I wrote about here.) On the ballot:

Pat Diamond (incumbent)
Ngozi Akubuike

As a general rule, for judicial races, I have a strong bias towards the incumbent, which I talk about in more detail here. With a judicial challenge, I expect candidates to make a case not only for themselves, but against the person they’re running against. Sometimes, that’s not hard: in 2018, one of the judges facing a challenge was doing so in large part because he had been arrested for drunk driving. (He went on to lose.)

Pat Diamond (incumbent)

Pat Diamond was appointed in 2012 by Governor Dayton. Reading his website, he looks like exactly the sort of judge I want to see on the bench: he’s helped to establish “treatment courts,” which provide diversion instead of incarceration for people with substance abuse or mental health problems. Prior to his current assignment he worked in Juvenile Court, and he notes as a major accomplishment: “We have reduced the number of children in pre-trial custody by 45 percent and reduced the average stay by 27 percent.  We have also reduced the number of children ultimately sentenced to custody out of home by 85 percent.  These are some of the most significant reductions in our country, ultimately leading to closure of Boys Totem Town, an outdated and now unnecessary facility that had been operating for more than 100 years, locking up young males, disproportionately children of color.”

When I looked on through the PiPress archive for news stories about him as a judge, I noticed that as a general pattern he gives sentences on the light side of recommendations (which I favor strongly). Most recently he was in the news for chewing out the DA’s office for failing to disclose during a trial that two police officers they’d called to give testimony were being investigated for lying in a different case. He did not, however, toss the conviction. (He said that the rest of the evidence was sufficient to convict: “That evidence included squad car video, some of Peguse’s own testimony and the testimony of a third officer who responded to the scene” — Peguse was on trial for hitting someone with his SUV on purpose. I couldn’t find any other coverage of the trial.)

According to the info on his Judicial District page, he was a prosecutor before becoming a judge, and he volunteers at a Unitarian Universalist summer camp.

Ngozi Akubuike

Ngozi Akubuike is an immigrant from Nigeria, and I’d say that the most impressive fact about her is that she went to law school twice, once there and then again after immigrating. On her website, she says that she was once homeless with a baby, and had to beg to get food. (My father wanted to nitpick: in most countries other than the US, a law degree is more like a BS or a BA. She got an undergraduate degree in Nigeria that was a law degree she could use for legal practice in Nigeria; when she moved to the US, she went to law school. At Mitchell, finishing in 2000.)

When I e-mailed Ngozi Akubuike to ask why she was running specifically against Pat Diamond — in other words, what’s your case against him? — she responded that they had considered “a number of factors, including lack of diversity. […] I believe we need diversity on the bench. The lack of diversity is not a full representation of our community. […] Moreover, to my knowledge, there is currently no black female judge in Ramsey County.”

So: she’s right that there doesn’t appear to be a Black woman currently serving as a judge in Ramsey County.

I asked about endorsements; she said, “we have some endorsements. However, we are careful in seeking endorsements given that this is a judicial race. We are running on the platform of equity and humane justice. Justice, at times, is not blind when we allow certain interests in judicial races.” The issue of endorsements and bias is legit, but Pat Diamond solves it by relying heavily on retired judges. I consider endorsements important because it means people with relevant qualifications are willing to vouch for you. Judicial races are hard enough to find information on as a layperson. This is part of why I’m biased towards incumbents: most incumbents got appointed via a process that includes a screening committee that interviewed people, got recommendations, etc.

I will say that some of the organizations she volunteers with raise red flags for me. On her campaign website, she says she volunteers with New Life Family Services, a group that runs crisis pregnancy centers, many of which are extremely manipulative of people who are roped in by free pregnancy tests. (New Life says they are completely up-front with their anti-abortion agenda and you damn well know who they are if you’ve walked through their door. Given that they say, “At First Care Pregnancy Center, you won’t find anyone judging you or telling you what to decide. When a pregnancy test is positive, we offer free pregnancy counseling to help you sort through your options. … We are here to help you weigh the pros and cons of all your pregnancy options and help you make a decision that you feel confident with.” — I mean, I have not sampled their counseling but I am dubious.)

Ngozi’s LinkedIn also mentioned a group called “HAVEN Int’l.” Apparently HAVEN is for Hope Alive Vision Empowerment Network. Here’s their website. It’s not a website that fills me with confidence that this is a legitimate and functional organization, especially the big “GET QUOTE” button that doesn’t work. HAVEN shares an address with the Redeemed Christian Church of God Empowerment Chapel. RCCG is a Pentacostalist church that started in Nigeria.

Popping in with an edit because my father also complained that I didn’t provide any information on what sort of law Ngozi practices. Her website describes her practice with the following: “Upon graduation, Ngozi served as a prosecutor, handling civil commitments, child support, forfeiture and criminal appeals cases, and advising the county. She also trained law enforcement officers on effective forfeiture. She served the State of Minnesota as ADA Coordinator and Legal Manager. In those capacities, she established the legal department in the Chemical & Mental Health Division, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice, EEOC, and the Council on Disability. She ensured that the state and the counties fulfilled their obligations; regarding the provision of reasonable accommodation, conducted investigations, advised the executives, worked with the BCA, the Supreme Court, and the Department of Corrections in advancing legislation to keep Minnesotans safe. Ngozi worked with the attorney general’s office in handling cases, mediated cases, appeared before legislative committees, trained judges on writing appropriate orders regarding psychotropic medications, representing the State in court in matters the AG’s office could not. Ngozi represented the state as the Legal Division Director at NASMHD, and was part of the state’s Senior Legal Policy group.”

I have no idea how to sum this up. This is one of the reasons I went looking for her LinkedIn — I was hoping for a more straightforward resume that would give job titles and dates instead of a narrative description of work she’s done.  This article provides a little more specific information about her work, although it also says that Leonardo Castro is the only Ramsey County judge who’s a person of color, which is not even accurate relative to the people currently on the ballot.)

Anyway: I agree with Ngozi that there should be more Black women on the court (and people of color in general) but I am unconvinced by the rest of her candidacy and am planning to vote to re-elect Pat Diamond.

If you’ve read all the way to the bottom: I took the time to look over on Donors Choose for some Minneapolis public school teachers who could use some financial help during These Difficult Times and in particularly with distance learning. The three small projects I found have ALL FUNDED, hurray! But the big one still has a long way to go:

Ms. Stone is a teacher at Cityview Elementary in North Minneapolis. She will be teaching third graders this year, and to help them succeed with distance learning, she is requesting a set of Chromebooks for her class. To equip this class of children with the basic technology they will need for distance learning will require another $5,523 to be raised by October 3rd. Can my readers raise that much? If not, can they at least get it to within sight of the finish line so a corporation or foundation will be inspired to swoop in and match our donations? I think it’s worth trying.

(I don’t have a patreon or a ko-fi but I take a lot of satisfaction from seeing projects fund after I point people at them. Please donate!)

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