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.)

Election 2014: Hennepin County Sheriff

So FYI, I’m not going to blog about uncontested races unless someone’s running a very serious write-in campaign. In Ramsey County, the Sheriff (Matt Bostrom) and County Attorney (John Choi) are running unopposed. In Hennepin County, County Attorney Mike Freeman is running unopposed, but there’s a race for County Sheriff.

Also, for some reason Sheriff is one of those words I can never spell. I always want to put in two r’s. So I apologize in advance if I get it wrong somewhere in this post.

Here’s who’s running:

EDDIE M. FRIZELL
RICH STANEK

Eddie Frizell

Eddie works for the Minneapolis Police Department; I’m not entirely clear on how they’re organized, but he oversees a bunch of stuff including some precincts plus the Emergency Preparedness unit, the Emergency Services Unit, and Special Operations Unit (which includes the SWAT people). He’s also served in the MN Army National Guard for 25 years. It’s worth noting that one of the things done at the county level is a lot of the emergency preparedness stuff (I think) so the fact that he’s done it in Minneapolis is a good sign.

I actually went to a random EMS open house a few years back that was being held behind the police station in my precinct. They had fire trucks and ambulances and stuff that you could check out, and a K-9 unit with a dog you could meet. Anyway, I actually asked the guy from the Sheriff’s office what they do that’s different from the police department and the one thing that I actually remember is water rescues. The county has some boats and special equipment for cold-water dives, or something like that. (Obviously in a truly enormous disaster like the 35W bridge collapse, it’s all hands on deck.)

Anyway. Theoretically this is a non-partisan office but I will note that Eddie is endorsed by the DFL. Rich Stanek is a Republican (he served in the state legislature for a while) but is endorsed by a number of Democratic politicians. (I’m sure the Republicans would have endorsed him, too, but that’s a minus not a plus in Hennepin County.)

Eddie was also endorsed by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Deputies Association, which is to say, the people who report to Rich Stanek endorsed Eddie. They voted 75% to endorse Eddie, with 15% saying no endorsement and only 9% saying “yeah, Rich!” AWKWARD. (Extra awkward if Rich wins.)

Philosophically, Eddie talks a lot about community policing. I find that really encouraging. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin in the era of Police Chief David Couper, who is probably the closest thing to a real-world Paladin I have ever encountered in real life. (Complete with a genuine commitment to the Lawful-Good way of life.) Couper was a big fan of community policing, possibly in the sense of inventing the concept (the Isthmus article says he invented it, but, well, Madisonians can be a little bit parochial.) (Incidentally, if you want to know more about David Couper, he has a blog about police work which is worth a look at.) Eddie notes that you won’t make much headway in fighting crime just with policing; he wants to see community engagement, partnerships, and rebuilt trust.

I’m a big fan of all that stuff. It would be really nice to see a Minneapolis Police Department that was doing some of it. Or even just going to meetings even if people are planning to show up and disagree with them.

Rich Stanek

Rich is one of those people who gets called “controversial” and “polarizing” a lot. Also sometimes “grandstanding,” “attention-seeking,” and “ambitious.” My impression as a Minneapolis resident was that he was a huge, enormous dick, though at least he was also reasonably competent and mostly effective. He has shown a stunning degree of tenacity simply in returning time and again to electoral politics and building alliances to overcome past scandals.

Back in 2004, then-governor Tim Pawlenty appointed him Public Safety commissioner. Rich then went down in flames over a couple of allegations, including the fact that he’d used the n-word during an off-duty altercation over a car accident in which he also beat up the other driver. The altercation itself happened in 1989, though in 1992 he had to testify under oath about his use of the n-word (which was apparently pretty extensive).

Given all that it’s pretty amazing that he not only made a comeback but won over a lot of black voters (the City Pages link above is to an article titled, “The Rehabilitation of Rich Stanek,” published in 2006).

While Sheriff, let me see. In 2012 he apparently had a woman arrested for trespassing when she was hanging out on a public sidewalk because she’d previously pissed him off. If you’re a supporter of marijuana legalization, be advised that Rich Stanek claims to have “seen firsthand in Hennepin County that there is a direct connection between marijuana and violent crime.” He goes on in that editorial to claim that “In the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center, marijuana is the most commonly detected drug among the 36,000 inmates who are booked into the facility each year. According to our most recent data, approximately 54 percent of males arrested for violent crime test positive for marijuana in Hennepin County.” — let me just touch on those claims really quickly before I move on. (a) Marijuana stays in your system a lot longer than most other drugs, so you’re way more likely to detect it with ANY drug test. (b) What percentage of the males arrested for violent crimes are drunk? (c) A lot of people use pot. Including some violent criminals. I’m not even going to get into the issue of people who self-medicate with street drugs — just, I mean, a lot of people use pot. If you’re an otherwise law-abiding, non-violent person who uses pot and knows Rich Stanek socially, you probably don’t invite him to smoke a bowl with you, and Rich might want to consider the issue of the pool of his research subjects here.

Anyway. I kind of think it’s a little unfair to hold against a law enforcement officer that he’s in favor of enforcing laws, but I’ll also note that he went to a whole lot of trouble to get the county to fund a cell phone tracking system that will let law enforcement know where you’re going even when you’re not using your phone, if you’re carrying it and it’s on.

I’m not honestly sure how much to worry about the KingFisher thing (which incidentally Jeff Johnson voted for, and now says he regrets). But despite being pretty blase about what corporations know about me (if you want a smartphone, you kind of get to pick: do you want Apple, or Google, to know basically everything there is to know about you?) and despite the fact that if they used this system to track me it would probably be because I’d been kidnapped, I think we are right to be extremely suspicious of law enforcement’s belief that they totally need to be able to track our location with sophisticated technology.

In 2007, Rich also got criticized for using public money to make a video bragging about the 35W bridge collapse response, taking credit for stuff that wasn’t actually his to take credit for. And last spring his son went driving off-road with a pickup truck through an environmentally sensitive area and got so mired in the mud he had to be pulled out. I don’t actually think politicians are responsible for the actions of their 22-year-old offspring, but the fact that no charges were filed afterward had me raising an eyebrow. But actually since I started researching this, charges got filed. I’m a little baffled by the gap — it’s one thing when someone is badly hurt or when it’s a really big crime and you’re gathering evidence or whatever. Does it normally take that long to go from incident to arrest when you do something that essentially amounts to vandalism on public land, and are caught while doing it?

Bottom line — I would vote for Eddie Frizell.

Election 2014: Hennepin County Commissioner, District 4

I’m going to link again to this excellent article about why the County Board is important and why you should care about it.

In Hennepin County, they run your libraries, because Minneapolis handed over their entire system to the county. They appoint two of the members of the Three Rivers Parks District board of commissioners. The Three Rivers Parks district has some truly outstanding regional parks, though among parents it’s probably best known for Chutes and Ladders. (If you’re a parent of a child between three and twelve and you haven’t heard of Chutes & Ladders, you need to pull up that link, note down the address, and take your kids there IMMEDIATELY.)

It can sometimes be a little confusing about where the city stops and the county starts. In Minneapolis, your trash is picked up by the city. But if you have Household Hazardous Waste, which you can’t put in the trash, that’s handled by the county. There are county highways that run through the city and I’m not actually sure but it’s possible those are plowed and have their potholes filled by the county. Hennepin County maintains the office to end homelessness, which does most of its work in Minneapolis. The city has the fire department, which will come to your house if you call 911 about a fire, but I’m pretty sure that the county has the ice rescue team, who will come to try to save your life if someone calls 911 because you went through the ice. This seamlessness is mostly a good thing, I think; if things are running smoothly, you aren’t going to need to know whether a service is being provided by the city, the county, or the state. (And if there’s an emergency, you can just dial 911, and whether it’s a city, county, or state employee that responds to your emergency is not your problem.) But the net result is that a lot of county stuff is somewhat invisible to citizens. And they do a LOT.

Here’s who’s running:

PETER MCLAUGHLIN – NONPARTISAN
CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW – NONPARTISAN

Peter McLaughlin

Peter is one of those long-standing been-around-forever candidates whose names makes me bristle and I can’t quite remember why. I conferred with Ed, who said he was a former crony of Sharon Sayles-Belton. I remember several years of trying aggressively to vote out as many of Sharon’s buddies as possible, but clearly McLaughlin stuck around and at this point, it’s been over a decade and if I can’t find a more recent reason to hate him, I think “buddy of Sharon” is probably past its freshness date. (I mean, if you’re on the county board, you SHOULD be working well with the current mayor of Minneapolis, right?) But, he also supported Mark Andrew, so if you really hated Mark Andrew, there’s that.

Looking up Mark Andrew took me to this article, in which (totally independent and not Republican at all) mayoral candidate Cam Winton objected to the fact that Peter McLaughlin arranged to release a YouTube video (made with county funds) on the official Hennepin County channel about the program that built the Greenway that just so happened to be very flattering to Mark Andrew and which came out right before the election. The link in the article no longer works but I tracked down what appears to be the video on YouTube. Oddly, the video that’s now on YouTube was released November 12th (a week after the election) so the fact that it does not contain egregious quantities of Mark Andrew may not actually represent what Cam was complaining about earlier. The main thing I’d say is worth objecting to about the video is that it clearly represents significant time and energy on the part of some county employee and yet has a whopping 95 views. And that’s pretty representative of their overall viewership. GUYS. YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING WRONG. The silly video of a bad fashion tips demonstration made by my daughters and their friends has 107 views. SRSLY GUYS.

I felt like one of my lingering grudges against him was stadium-related, and yeah, McLaughlin was one of the Hennepin County people who not only passed a county-specific sales tax to build the Twins’ ballpark, but also arranged to circumvent the requirement to hold a referendum. He then did not support the Vikings stadium deal, but that didn’t matter since it was passed by the state and funded by the state. That article has sort of a hilarious bit about the suggestions for a referendum:

A referendum “doesn’t make a bad idea any better,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who voted for Target Field but dislikes the Vikings stadium proposal. “I don’t believe in government by referendum. It lets elected officials off the hook for making judgments about these things.”

Yeah, you know what? A referendum doesn’t make a bad idea any better. But it at least empowers people to say no to a bad idea, like a $1.024 billion sports palace, $498 million of which is coming from the public purse, and I was going to make a joke here about how bad the Vikings are, but frankly it doesn’t even matter. Even if they were the best team in the country, I think they should buy their own goddamn stadium (or continue playing in the one they already had).

Anyway, I guess we can’t blame that one on Peter, although there was a point where he was being awfully cagey about his feelings on the subject.

Overall, I’m not 100% sold on Peter. My general impression of him is someone who will do generally good work but will tuck in favors to friends here and there, and his friends may be people I don’t like very much. In his favor, he supports green energy and transit, he helped build the Midtown Greenway (which is awesome), and the county mostly runs smoothly.

Captain Jack Sparrow

Or, if you prefer, you could vote for a guy who cosplays a drunken, lunatic swashbuckler?

I am pretty sure that Jack wants you to take him seriously. He has an article on his blog about his past accomplishments; he’s spent about 40 years as an activist, focused largely on housing. In recent years he’s worked with Occupy Minnesota to make life hard for banks foreclosing on homeowners. Back in the late 1980s he founded an advocacy group called People United for Economic Justice, which used similar tactics (occasionally in collaboration with anarchist bowling-ball-throwers — I’m not making this up, Jack links to the wikipedia article about the other group because it mentions their collaboration with his group.)

Taking him as seriously as I can for a minute, I will note a couple of things.

* As an activist, he is extremely fond of the sit-in. Back in the 1980s it was HUD homes and the Gold Medal Flour building; now it’s foreclosed houses and banks. There’s a lot to be said about that tactic but when I’m looking at a person whose sole qualification is “activist” and considering them for elected office, I want to see a bit more range.

* Things he’s involved in seem to go awry pretty regularly. (“In the case of the St. Paul lawyer’s office, the order to move in to open the door never arrived. As a result, one of our members was charged with assault when a false claim was made that he had caused a woman who had been inside the office to fall after the door was forcibly opened, causing her an injury. The door was forcibly opened by pulling on it while it was being held from the inside, but the person accused was not involved and was found not guilty by a jury.” — Um, if your group forced open a door and injured someone, SOMEONE should probably have been found guilty by that jury. I mean, maybe I’m reading this wrong, but it sounds like he’s saying, because of a communication lapse on the part of the Occupy people, a false claim was made that someone had injured someone by forcing open a door. And in fact we DID forcibly open a door, it just wasn’t the person who got accused who did it! …if I AM reading it wrong, it’s because his explanation is awfully confusing. Poor communication skills: also not a plus in an elected official.)

* A lot of what he accomplishes seems to boil down to attention, rather than substantive results. Which shouldn’t be entirely surprising with someone who went to court and changed his legal name to Captain Jack Sparrow.

Anyway. Even setting aside the fact that he changed his name to Captain Jack Sparrow … he strikes me as someone who’d be profoundly ineffective in this job. But in any case I see no reason to set that aside. THE GUY CHANGED HIS NAME TO CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW.

I liked the Pirates of the Caribbean movies! They were a blast! Captain Jack Sparrow is a great character and terrific fun to watch! I DO NOT WANT HIM REPRESENTING ME IN ANY POLITICAL OFFICE, UP TO AND INCLUDING DOGCATCHER.