September 22, 2008

SCTimes: Panel at CSB to debate judicial selection

By David Unze

The College of St. Benedict will host a panel discussion Tuesday on judicial independence and how Minnesota selects its judges.

John Simonett will chair the panel. Simonett is a St. John’s University graduate and former associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

It is an opportunity to educate the public about the state of judicial elections and the possible options for the future, said Matt Lindstrom, director of the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement and associate professor of political science at St. Ben’s and St. John’s.

A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down Minnesota’s long-held canon prohibiting judicial candidates from stating their views on disputed legal or political issues.

That decision — Republican Party of Minnesota vs. White — allows candidates to claim political party affiliation.

Many see that as the first step toward the practice of outside influences raising huge sums of cash to challenge candidates with opposing political views.

While that has yet to happen in Minnesota on a large scale, many in the legal community are concerned it will.

That concern and what to do about it likely will be central to the discussion at St. Ben’s, Lindstrom said.

He hopes the panel conveys to those attending “not what to think, but what to think about,” he said.

Among the panelists scheduled to speak at the discussion are:

  • Michael Ford, a St. John’s graduate, attorney at Quinlivan & Hughes and president of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

  • Former Gov. Al Quie, chaired a commission that studied the issue of judicial elections and made recommendations for how they could be changed.

  • Anoka County District Court Judge Sharon Hall, a St. Ben’s graduate who has served on the bench since 1993.

  • Karna Peters, an attorney with Peters and Peters in Glenwood who is chair of the state bar association’s judiciary committee.

  • State Sen. Julianne Ortman (R, Chanhassen), who is a member of the Senate’s judiciary committee.

  • Philip Kronebusch, political science professor at St. Ben’s and St. John’s.