Minnesotans To Decide Three Supreme Court Seats

Gildea puts up her record, Griffith challenges judicial appointments

Lorie S. Gildea campaigns on her record of Minnesota chief justice, telling voters she helped get more court funding and that she makes decisions based on the law, not her feelings.

Challenger Dan Griffith does not criticize Gildea, but blasts how she got into office: by governor appointment instead of a public vote.

The two appear on Minnesotans’ Tuesday ballot as one of three Supreme Court justice contests.

Griffith and two other challengers of Minnesota Court incumbents focus campaigns on how justices are selected.

Six of the seven high court justices were appointed by governors. Only Justice Alan Page was originally elected. Justices who have been on the court long enough also have stood for election after their original appointments.

However, Griffith said, incumbent justices “have a 66-year winning streak” of not being defeated in public elections.

Gildea centers her campaign on her experience.

“It matters a great deal who leads the third branch of government…” she said. “I’m the only candidate in the race with experience doing that job. My record shows me I am good at it.”

The native of Plummer, in northwestern Minnesota, is a University of Minnesota Morris graduate who was a University of Minnesota lawyer before being appointed district court judge. After a short stint there, she was named to the high court and two and a half years ago became chief justice.

She won election in 2008.

When she took the chief justice’s job, the courts had faced three years of budget cuts.

“I was successful in reversing that trend,” she said, by being the judicial system’s “lobbyist in chief.”

“The courts are a constitutional obligation and they have to be funded as such,” she said.

If anything related to court funding would appear before the Supreme Court, she added, she would step aside from the case if her impartiality could be questioned.

Gildea said she makes sure personal feelings do not enter her court decisions.

“We are not swearing to uphold our personal views,” she said. “If we cannot set them aside, then we have to step off the case.”

The chief justice would not directly comment on criticisms others have leveled against of Griffith being closely affiliated with the Republican Party.

“You can see how he has been campaigning and who has been campaigning with,” she said.

Gildea, 51, called for increasing the distance between politics and the courts. “It is very dangerous to insert partisan politics into the judicial selection process.”

Griffith, 50, said he has not sought Republican endorsement and attends events sponsored by any party, or anyone else.

“I will speak to any group,” he said, although he receives more invitations to GOP meetings.

He said he has not campaigned for partisan candidates.

Griffith ran for Appeals Court judge two years ago, when he was fighting cancer. He was in the hospital election night.

He ran then, like now, because he wants the courts to follow state and federal constitutions. He said that has not always happened in the courts, especially when judges have not been elected.

“We the people hold the power, we loan it to our duly elected representatives,” Griffith said.

He questioned the government taking property away from business owners in St. Paul to install a light passenger rail line. People who owned property in the area “did not have a voice in the best way to go about this.”

Griffith said governors usually appoint political allies to the Supreme Court.

Once appointed, “whenever they are up for election, they always win,” Griffith said. “A challenger never effectively challenges them.”

Gildea, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, praised governors for appointing qualified judges.

“I think, fortunately for Minnesota, that governors going all the way back to Al Quie have used the merit judicial selection process,” she said.





 Stras, Tinglestad disagree on what experience counts

Minnesota’s youngest Supreme Court justice and his challenger agree experience is key to electing someone to the high court, but do not agree on which one has the right experience.

Justice David Stras touts his background of being a clerk for three federal judges, including Justice Clarence Thomas, as well as teaching, practicing law in Washington, D.C., writing law articles and serving on the Minnesota high court two years.

On the other hand, Tim Tingelstad said that at 52, he is about 14 years older than the incumbent, which translates into more experience. He has been judicial magistrate handling family law cases for 14 years after time as an assistant county attorney and private lawyer.

Minnesota voters are being asked to decide which kind of experience they prefer when they vote on Nov. 6.

It is Stras’ first election, after Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed him two years ago. Tingelstad, who lives in Bemidji, has run for justice three other times.

Stras said that his youth is an advantage.

“I have been on the cutting edge,” he said of court reform such as the current movement to file cases electronically.

He admitted he has spent less time in court as a lawyer than Tingelstad, but said he did work on a Washington murder case.

“You need all types on the court,” Stras said.

Tingelstad, however, said his background would make for a better justice.

Tingelstad termed Stras’ jobs “not practical legal experience.”

Beyond experience, the two disagree about how they should campaign.

Over the years, Tingelstad has drawn sharp criticism about his religious comments.

“I’m probably a terrible politician,” Tingelstad said. “It probably is the worst thing to tell people what your belief system is.”

His Web site says: “God wants to shine the light of his truth upon this state and nation again. My hope is that this message will encourage many to begin praying for the restoration of the truth of God’s word back into our public institutions.”

In an interview, Tingelstad denied that such comments mean that he would decide cases based on his religious belief.

If the people’s representatives in the Legislature ignore God’s will, he said, as a judge he has no authority to overrule the decision as long as it is constitutional.

Stras, the first Jew on the Minnesota Supreme Court, said that while he and his family practice their religion, “I do not think that God dictates any of my decisions,” adding that when he accepted the justice job he took an oath to the state, not to God.

“The outcome of the cases is less important than what the law requires,” he said.

The justice is like other incumbents who say politics should not be involved in judicial races. His campaign is co-chaired by two Republicans and two Democrats.

Tingelstad sought the Republican Party endorsement this year, but delegates to the state convention decided to forego endorsing anyone this year. All three incumbents were appointed by a Republican governor.




Anderson faces known opponent in Barkley

More Minnesota voters know Dean Barkley’s name than those of many judicial candidates, but he wonders if that is enough to erase the advantage of having “incumbent” next to Barry Anderson’s name on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Anderson, appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2004, is running for re-election, challenged by a man who has been a state official and appeared on Minnesotans’ ballots before.

“I am running against somebody who has somewhat good name identification,” Justice Anderson said while campaigning in rural Minnesota.

Barkley is on a Minnesota ballot for the fifth time, but the first running for a judicial race. He is challenging Anderson because he fears the court system is becoming partisan, like executive and legislative branches of state government.

The founder of the Reform Party, now Independence Party, said he does not claim that Anderson “is a bad judge,” but questions some rulings made by the one-time Republican Party attorney.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Anderson to the high court. Another Republican governor, Arne Carlson, appointed him to the Appeals Court six years earlier.

Minnesotans may best know Anderson because he sat on the 2008 state Canvassing Board, which presided over the U.S. Senate recount between Al Franken and Norm Coleman.

Barkley brings a colorful background to the race. He was a key aide to Gov. Jesse Ventura, who appointed Barkley to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Sen. Paul Wellstone died in an airplane crash 10 years ago. Barkley served 62 days before Coleman took office.

A lawyer, Barkley has been a lobbyist, bus driver for disabled Twin Cities residents and campaign manager for a colorful Texas governor candidate who lost. He also ran for Congress four times.

Both candidates said politics do not belong in the Supreme Court race.

As a lawyer, Anderson sometimes supported Republican candidates, but said in 14 years on the bench he has never has seen what he considers a partisan ruling.

Anderson promotes his background as being the only justice who grew up in greater Minnesota, and then practiced there. He was a lawyer in Fairmont and Hutchinson before going to the Twin Cities.

Small-town lawyers get a wider variety of cases than those in bigger cities, he said, an advantage on the high court. “That is an opportunity to represent people in all kinds of matters, large and small.”

Like the other three Supreme Court challengers this year, Barkley questions the way Minnesota gets judges. While the state Constitution calls for their election by the public, all but one Supreme Court justice and most judges statewide have been appointed by a governor to fill vacancies left by retirements.

With partisan governors doing the appointing, “the natural consequence is that the court is going to become partisan,” Barkley said.

“I didn’t pick on Barry,” Barkley said. “I just thought he was an example of how you get onto the court that I don’t agree with.”

Anderson said that being an incumbent means he has needed experience. “I focus on my decade-and-a-half of experience.”