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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.)