Election 2016 – Judicial Races -4th District Court 45 and 4th District Court 37

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)
Chris Ritts

I’ll do the 4th District Court 37 first.

Carolina Lamas

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.

Luke Kyper Bellville

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

Paul R. Scoggin (incumbent)

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.)

Chris Ritts

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.

 

 

 

Election 2014: Voting Recommendations, Minneapolis Ballot (Contested Offices Only)

Important election day note: the poll workers at my polling place were telling everyone to shut off their cell phone. You may want to bring a hard copy when you to vote, just in case.

Note: This is based off the sample ballot in my former precinct, which may be different from yours. I suggest you go to http://myballotmn.sos.state.mn.us/ and put in your own address to see your own ballot so that you can research any miscellaneous races that I might not have covered.

U.S. Senator
AL FRANKEN

U.S. Representative District 5
KEITH ELLISON

State Representative District 63A
JIM DAVNIE

Governor & Lt Governor
MARK DAYTON AND TINA SMITH

Secretary of State
STEVE SIMON

State Auditor
REBECCA OTTO

Attorney General
LORI SWANSON

County Commissioner District 4
PETER MCLAUGHLIN

County Sheriff
EDDIE M. FRIZELL

CITY QUESTION 1 (Minneapolis)
YES

CITY QUESTION 2 (Minneapolis)
YES

School Board Member at Large (SSD #1) (Elect 2)
REBECCA GAGNON
IRIS ALTAMIRANO

School Board Member District 5 (SSD #1)
NELSON INZ

Associate Justice – Supreme Court 2
WILHELMINA (MIMI) WRIGHT

Associate Justice – Supreme Court 3
DAVID LILLEHAUG

Judge – 4th District Court 16
JAMES A. MOORE

Judge – 4th District Court 43
BRIDGET ANN SULLIVAN

Judge – 4th District Court 53
BEV BENSON

Judge – 4th District Court 61
AMY DAWSON

Election 2014: 4th District (Hennepin County) Court, Judge 61

This is the last of the elections on either my St. Paul or my former Minneapolis ballot. If anyone has special requests for coverage of a Minneapolis or St. Paul race that wasn’t included, let me know in the comments or by e-mail.

This is another open seat. They’re replacing Judge Robert M. Small, who was appointed in 2006 and first elected in 2008, and is not running again.

AMY DAWSON
BEVERLY J. AHO

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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

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Election 2014: 4th District (Hennepin County) Court, Judge 43

One of the oddities this year in Hennepin County is that there are, in fact, three actual open seats in the judicial races. I did a cursory look at all three races and it looks like there’s one that’s a battle between two liberals; one that’s a person with a bunch of supporters vs. a person with no supporters; and one that’s clearly a liberal vs. a conservative.

This one is a liberal vs. a liberal:

PAUL SCOGGIN
BRIDGET ANN SULLIVAN

I’m going to use a cut tag now that I’ve figured out how to do that.

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Election 2014: 4th District (Hennepin County) Court, Judge 16

This one’s going to be a lot shorter than the last one.

Running for this judgeship:

BRUCE MICHAEL RIVERS
JAMES A. MOORE

Bruce Rivers

Bruce Rivers is a criminal defense attorney, and rather than a “why you should vote for me for judge” site, he linked to his professional defense-lawyer website. He makes a reasonable case for why you should hire him as a defense attorney: he’s Board Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, he is certified by the Minnesota Bar Association as a criminal trial specialist, he’s achieved acquittals in all sorts of criminal cases (DUI to Murder I!). He has 16 years of trial experience and has represented 2,000 people. I’m not sure why you’d hire him as a judge, though.

I absolutely believe that everyone has a right to a good defense; our entire system of justice is predicated on criminally accused people having someone competent to work on their behalf. When Adrian Peterson goes to trial for beating the crap out of his child, it will be totally legit for the defense attorney to minimize, justify, and rationalize what he did, because that’s the job of a defense lawyer. On the other hand, when I read stuff like Bruce Rivers’ page on solicitation of a minor (“Many times, the defendant never completed the act with the minor. However, they are charged simply because they communicated in an inappropriate way with the minor”) or domestic assault (“You may also have trouble getting what you deserve during a divorce procedure if convicted of domestic violence”) or sexual assault (“Promiscuity [of the victim] is no longer allowed as a defense except under very limited circumstances. This frustrates many defendants because the fact they know that a victim has had consensual sex with a number of partners, but cannot bring up this fact”) and these pages do not make me think, “oh yeah, I totally want this guy to be a judge.”

I mean — I do actually think a defense lawyer could be a perfectly fine judge. But they need to make a case for themselves. Because a “hire me as your defense lawyer” website really sends the wrong message.

The other thing I found was this rather gushing profile, written last April. (By a professional publicist.) Asked whether he might add a lawyer or two at his firm in the future, he said, “I like the way things are right now. Maintaining focus on the cases I take is what matters, not growing my firm to line my pockets.” …but apparently running for judge was on his immediate to-do list, go figure. (Well, filing for judge, anyway.)

James A. Moore

James is the incumbent. Like most people who get appointed to judgeships, he’s a solid pillar of the community (serving on the board at a charter school, coaching youth basketball, and volunteering as a mock trial judge); he spent many years working in the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office. He has an enviable endorsements list that includes both the trial lawyer’s association and the police federation, Betsy Hodges and Rich Stanek, the State Public Defender, a whole lot of judges, and the AFL-CIO.

Vote for James A. Moore.

Election 2014: Rambling on Judicial Races

How to choose judges is not something Americans exactly have a consensus on. In Minnesota, we have elections, but a lot of the time there’s sort of an end run around this by appointing people mid-term so that the first time they stand for election, they’re running with the advantage of incumbency. A few years ago the major parties started endorsing judges — I can’t remember where previously there was a rule against it, or if it was just not the custom. Judicial candidates tend not to trumpet their party endorsements and instead let you know subtly by mentioning various prominent people with known party affiliations as “supporters.”

There’s a group in Minnesota that’s lobbying to change the way we do judicial elections. They suggest a merit-based appointments system after which judges stand election every four years with a yes/no vote. I tend to think this would be a better way to do it, because it means that if someone’s really incompetent we can just focus on getting people to vote NO on that particular judge.

I am not personally an expert on all the different ways out there to pick judges. My father, on the other hand, actually is exactly that sort of expert. Actually, he’s expert on lots of things: he’s a Political Science professor with a specialty in the American judicial system, and he’s studied comparative judicial systems, the effect of contingent fees, mediation, and he did one project we all called the Lawyers in the Mist project where he spent about six months observing lawyers interacting with clients (with the permission of the clients.) Next year, his book Justices on the Ballot: Continuity and Change in State Supreme Court Elections is coming out from Cambridge University Press, and anyone who’s got a strong investment in the question of how we choose judges might want to take a look.

Possibly the finding from my father’s recent research that I found the most entertaining: there really is a town out there that elects its dogcatcher (well, “Animal Control Officer.”) So if you’ve ever heard heard somebody joke that Ole Savior couldn’t get elected dogcatcher, there’s actually a town he could move to where he could, in fact, add that to his collection of electoral losses.

The problem of avoiding partisanship in judicial races is one that doesn’t have a simple solution. My father gave me an extended explanation of a convoluted system that involves merit, a committee that makes recommendations, confirmation by elected officials (but with some rules in place to discourage them from turning anyone down without a good reason), and retention elections.

Alternately, you can just throw in the towel and embrace partisanship, which is more and more what Minnesota is moving to, I think.

Of course, there are all sorts of issues I want to avoid in the judiciary that are not as straightforward as liberal vs. conservative. I am very wary of judges who would assume that the police would never, ever lie (I kind of expect some degree of pro-police bias in judges, but in a situation where a dozen witnesses plus the physical evidence say one thing happened and a police officer says another thing happened, I want a judge who will be willing to at least ENTERTAIN the possibility that the cop is lying.) I am similarly wary of judges who have a bias toward the bigger, wealthier party in lawsuits, or who fail to realize the impact of being the target of a SLAPP suit has on private citizens. Finally, the sad fact is that when people run against incumbent judges, they’re frequently flakes or weirdos. I have a strong anti-flake bias regardless of office.

Anyway, at the moment most judges have dignified, non-partisan web sites that seek to communicate gravitas and hint in only the most discreet ways at whether they’re likely to swing liberal or conservative. Makes it harder. But! We are weeks away from the election so I’d better get going on this.

Just a note: I am only planning to research and write about the contested judicial races. (If there’s a serious write-in campaign happening in any of the uncontested races, please let me know.)