Sometimes the wheels of justice turn slowly. Sometimes they turn not at all.
At least that’s how it felt when the announcement came out a couple of weeks ago about the four finalists selected for the two open judges’ positions in the Sixth Judicial District. All four are from St. Louis County — despite the fact that one of them will be assigned to hear cases in Carlton County, and despite the fact Carlton County had an impressive field of candidates of its own.
Somehow, that seems to be a miscarriage of justice for the folks of the county where the new judge will serve, as well as for the very qualified candidates themselves.
According to Minnesota state statute, a merit selection commission is established to screen applicants for district court vacancies. The commission also determines which candidates will be invited to move on to the interview stage, conducts background checks and determines the finalists. The statute setting up the commission requires it to consider factors such as “legal experience, temperament and community service” in screening candidates.
It all sounds well and good. But there’s little way of knowing what degree of subjective/objective consideration goes into the selection of the final candidates behind closed doors, or how each of those things is weighted. Apparently, a pre-existing relationship with the county a judge is appointed to serve is not one of them (though as it stands, the St. Louis County position will surely be filled by one of its own).
Recently retired Sixth District Judge Dale Wolf, a native of Carlton County, served on the bench for 26 years, becoming the state’s longest-seated judge and garnering accolades along the way. Judge Robert Macaulay, also a resident of the county, has likewise been seated for nearly two decades and has proven his wisdom and integrity along the way. These are men who know the county well and who have served it in not only in a professional capacity but in many volunteer and adjunct capacities as well, in large part because they were a pre-existing part of the community.
There is no reason to believe that any of the Carlton County attorneys who threw their respective hats in the ring for Sixth Judicial Court judge would do any less. What’s more, they bring something to the table that someone whose law experience is from outside the county, no matter how qualified they might be on paper, cannot — an understanding of what it’s like to be a part of the county and serve their fellow citizens.
The four finalists for the two Sixth District judges’ positions are currently under consideration by Governor Mark Dayton. Dayton is not mandated, however, to fill one or both positions from that field. Perhaps there’s still time to show a little home-town support for consideration of one of our own.
(Governor Dayton’s office can be contacted at: mn.gov/governor/contact-us/, by phone at 1-800-657-3717 or by mail at: Office of the Governor, 130 State Capitol, 75 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55155.)