Election 2016: Judicial Races – State Supreme Court

It’s been weirdly hard to focus on these writeups this year because thinking about politics is far more stressful than it normally is. I’m going to try to focus and get a few more done today.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, you’ll get a long list of judges running for re-election but on neither the ballot for my current address nor the ballot for my former address does anyone running for District Court or Court of Appeals have any opponents. (I don’t know how I missed the fact that several Minneapolis judicial races are contested. I’ll get to those shortly.)

I nearly always vote for incumbents in judicial races because 99.99% of the time, the person running against the incumbent is a kook, at best. (In most cases they’re from the Michele Bachmann school of wingnuttery or something similarly appalling.) On those occasions that you have a genuinely awful incumbent, I expect that people advocating for the challenger will have made a pretty concerted effort to make sure I know why I should be voting differently this time around.

Frankly, I think candidate vs. candidate judicial races are a bad idea. I would prefer to see Y/N voting, with a judge removed if there’s a majority saying they shouldn’t be a judge anymore, with new judges selected by a committee and appointed by the governor or something along those lines. (My father is a political scientist and how judges are selected is one of his areas of specialty.)

Anyway, the only judicial race that’s contested this time is for the Supreme Court. You can choose between Natalie Hudson, an experienced, respected justice supported by basically all the people in the state who know or care about the court system, and Michelle MacDonald, a certified whackjob who has no business anywhere near the legal profession.

I did a detailed writeup about Michelle two years ago and I’ll just link to that rather than trying to recap. The only major update is that the Grazzini-Rucki kids turned up in the last year; it was their mother who hid them; the mother has now been tried and found guilty for felony deprivation of parental rights and is serving a short prison sentence.

Michelle MacDonald’s behavior and demeanor are erratic; she has repeatedly gotten herself into serious trouble due to a complete lack of respect for legal procedure; she has marginal emotional control over herself in situations where professionals are expected to be able to keep a grip on themselves. She has poor grammar and punctuation. She waves Bibles around in speeches.

Even if you find things in Michelle’s rants that sound appealing, she should under no circumstances be trusted with a judgeship. Vote for Natalie Hudson in this race.

 

Election 2016: MN Supreme Court Primary

So it is August 2nd, and we have a primary on August 9th. Primaries used to be in September, and got pushed back because they wanted everyone to have more time to campaign. I’m not sure this was a good idea, because I’m just not used to having to pay attention to this stuff in August; it’s easy to just miss it accidentally because I’m not in election mode yet.

There is one statewide race, and it’s the sort of easy-to-miss incredibly important office that hopefully you’re reading my blog for information about: the State Supreme Court. There are three people running:

Natalie Hudson
Craig Foss
Michelle MacDonald

Natalie Hudson

Natalie was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Mark Dayton in October of 2015. She was appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals by Ventura. She is endorsed by basically all the current and former MN Supreme Court justices, the Star Tribune, and 90% of the lawyers in the state, according to a Bar Association poll. She is smart, she is qualified, and she has the breadth and depth of experience you’d hope for in a judge.

Basically she’s a no-brainer. GO VOTE FOR HER.

Craig Foss

Craig doesn’t have a website but I did find a brief newspaper article about him. He is an unemployed lawyer and is running for justice because hey, it would be a job!

I’ll say that I think it’s unfortunate that he’s dealing with prejudice because he’s legally blind. Blindness is not a disqualification from being a lawyer. That said, “I’m unemployed and want a job” is a terrible reason to run for Supreme Court Justice. As someone who’s known a lot of math-oriented people, I’m frankly not convinced that “I bring the logic and analytical skills of a mathematician. The law would be much easier and more understandable if all lawyers were mathematicians” is a persuasive case, either.

Michelle MacDonald

I wrote about Michelle back in 2014 when she ran for the same job (different seat) and I’m just going to link you there, because there’s way too much to recap.

Looking her up two years ago, I discovered a jaw-dropping rabbit hole of bizarre behavior, including the drunk driving charge but also this incident where she got arrested in a courtroom that is too convoluted to summarize.

Her (former) client  Sandra Grazzini-Rucki has been back in the news lately because her missing kids turned back up and Sandra was charged with deprivation of parental rights for helping them hide from their father.

Anyway. MacDonald was endorsed by the Republicans two years ago after making a rousing speech that involved some literal Bible thumping; she tried for an endorsement again this year and they refused it. (The Republicans will currently endorse for judicial races; the DFL will not. Most of the respectable candidates, like Natalie Hudson, do not seek party endorsement at all.)

Despite the fact that Michelle MacDonald is the sort of batshit that makes Michele Bachmann look like a model of rational and responsible behavior, she got 47% of the vote against Lillehaug in 2014. Vote in these races, people. And go vote in the primary.

 

 

 

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.)