The two candidates on the ballot:
This is a state-wide race: it is on everyone’s ballot. I almost didn’t notice it was contested, because the challenger didn’t have a website up in time to get it linked from the voter info portal site I use to see what the races even are.
“Court 11” seems to refer to the seat that’s open, but I can’t figure out which judge is in it right now. That person is apparently not running for re-election as the seat seems to be wide open. There are four people running, two of whom will progress to the November ballot.
I just want to note for the record that I think this is a bad way to choose a judge. Even more than any other elective seat, I’m not in a good position to decide whether someone’s going to be good at the job. The Committee on Judicial Selection, which you apply to and which recommends appointments to the governor, and which was handling two seats this year, seems genuinely more qualified to me. (I have no idea why this seat wasn’t filled that way!)
(I’d also prefer retention elections to the system we’ve got now. In a retention election, you vote “should we keep this person, Y/N” when their term expires, and if people vote N, a new person gets appointed.)
The vast majority of what judges do isn’t partisan. “Did this person steal a car?” is not a particularly political question. But of course, politics leak in in all sorts of ways. I don’t want a judge who’s going to discriminate against a gay parent in a child custody case. I don’t want a judge who doesn’t take violence against women seriously. I don’t want a judge who assumes that police officers are always telling the truth. Etc.
Anyway — somewhat frustratingly, I’m going to note — all four of the candidates for this open seat appear to be basically fine and decent people who’d probably be good judges. Here they are:
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
4th District Court 45
I’ll do the 4th District Court 37 first.
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.