We're awaiting the reviews from the legal community now that Gov. Tim Pawlenty has appointed a new chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. (Update: Minn. Lawyer blog calls it a "John Roberts type 'difficult-to-assail' appointment")But this much we know: it helps to be close to Tim Pawlenty if you want a gig on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Pawlenty today appointed Eric Magnuson of Inver Grove Heights to replace outgoing justice Russell Anderson. Magnuson was a partner in the same firm -- Rider Bennett -- that employed both Pawlenty and his wife, Mary. He was also in charge of screening judicial candidates for Pawlenty. Minnesota Lawyer says the move was "anticipated."
Prior to Magnuson's appointment, Pawlenty's most recent pick for the Minnesota Supreme Court was Christopher Dietzen in November. Dietzen was Pawlenty's campaign lawyer.
For his part, Magnuson steps onto the court that might still be considering an important case in June, one in which he just argued a position before the court. According to Minnesota Lawyer, Magnuson argued a sexual harassment case before the court this month in which his client, Carlson Marketing Group, is being sued by a woman who says she was physically and sexually assaulted.
The case, heard earlier this month, will determine the extent to which the Minnesota Human Rights Act holds an employer liable for the actions of an employee in matters of sex harassment.
You can watch the March 4 hearing before the high court here. Magnuson's presentation begins at 25:28 (download the video to your computer to be able to fast forward).
Obviously the possibility of favoritism that is suggested in the article makes me uncomfortable but, what bothers me even more is that there is no legislative over sight over the governor’s pick. In all likelihood Mr. Magnuson is a qualified and appropriate candidate. Nonetheless, it bothers me that a candidate with such close ties to the governor and no prior judicial experience can be appointed to such an important position with no additional oversight.
Make no mistake - the only surprise about this appointment is that it was not made sooner. Eric Magnuson has been a giant in the field of appellate practice in Minnesota - and beyond - for a long time. Any governor would have felt comfortable appointing him to the supreme court, and I very much doubt that you will find a judge or lawyer in this state that would disagree with the appointment.
Prior judicial experience is not a prerequisite to appointment to an appellate court. On the Minnesota Supreme Court: Justice Alan Page, Justice Paul Anderson, Justice Helen Meyer, Justice G. Barry Anderson, and Justice Christopher Dietzen all had no experience as trial judges before appointment to appellate courts. Justice Gildea's trial court experience was limited. The same is true of many of our court of appeals judges, as well as United State's Supreme Court Justices. As you can see, Justice Russell Anderson was in fact the exception in that he had trial court experience, not the rule.
I do not mean to say that people should never be cynical, nor cast a critical eye in judicial appointments. But this is not a case where one need be suspect. And I am not a supporter of Gov. Pawlenty.
Magnuson, I believe, was responsible for vetting previous nominees to the bench. Any insight into why he wasn't named to the court sooner? Also, any insight into why an existing member of the court wasn't elevated to chief and then Magnuson appointed to fill that spot?
In response to Bob Collins: speculation is that it was Magnuson's decision to wait until now for appointment. I cannot verify that - it is just rumor. He is likely taking a large pay cut to take the seat.
Not sure why he became the Chief.
For the record, I made no such speculation. My questions were not rhetorical.