Four candidates vie for two district judge positions in northern Minnesota
Out of 119 district judge seats up for election in Minnesota this year, four of those races are contested, and Polk County voters will help decide two of them.
Both contested races are in Cass County, Minn., where Judge Charles Halverson will face county attorney Ben Lindstrom, and Assistant Chief Judge Jana Austad will face attorney James Hughes. Both judges will work within Minnesota's Ninth Judicial District, which encompasses 17 counties in northern and west-central Minnesota.
The district judge positions are nonpartisan, and judicial candidates are limited as to how they can campaign, according to Austad. Because judges' impartiality is critical to their role, candidates aren't allowed to campaign on issues.
Instead, judges rely on name recognition and the weight of their experience.
The Minnesota judicial system uses a kind of hybrid model to select judges, Halverson said. Most judges are appointed by the governor after a rigorous vetting process by a merit selection committee, a body made up of lawyers and non-lawyers from across the state. That's how Austad got the job, in 2013, as well as Halverson, appointed in 2018.
But every six years, other prospective candidates have the chance to unseat the appointed judges through an election. Hughes said those elections are a chance for the people to check the will of the governor and ensure their local courts reflect their local values.
Voters' decision on which judges they want presiding over their courts has the potential to have long-lasting impacts on people's lives and their communities, most often by deciding how long to incarcerate people who have been convicted of a crime, but occasionally by setting a precedent in unique legal situations.
Ninth District Court Four
Judge Charles Halverson was vetted by the Minnesota Commission on Judicial Selection and appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2018, after working in Minnesota's Ninth Judicial District for more than 30 years.
Before being appointed judge, Halverson has experience as a law clerk and as the managing attorney for the Brainerd Office of the Public Defender, and opened Halverson Law Office in 2000. He has been designated a criminal law specialist by the Minnesota State Bar Association, a distinction granted to fewer than 60 lawyers in Minnesota and which must be recertified every six years.
Why should voters pick him?
"I was scrutinized and vetted by people who have a vested interest in having solid, legitimate candidates on information that voters don't have access to," Halverson said. "Unless somebody who was appointed engages in some sort of malfeasance, I'm not sure there is a good reason not to put them back."
Ben Lindstrom was chosen by a selection committee to be the Cass County Attorney in 2017 after the previous attorney was appointed to be a judge in another county. Voters re-elected Lindstrom as the Cass County Attorney in 2018.
Before receiving the county attorney appointment, he worked as an assistant Cass County attorney, as the treasurer for the city of Chickamaw Beach, and in the Brainerd Office of the Public Defender.
Lindstrom did not respond to requests for an interview.
Posted on 07 Oct 2020, 06:01 - Category: In the News