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A guide to Minnesota’s 2018 contested judicial races

November 7, 2018

Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chutich, a 2016 Gov. Dayton appointee, files for her second term. She is the first openly gay woman to serve on the high court.

In Minnesota, judicial contests are not exactly the most exciting thing on the ballot.

There are only eight contested judicial races out of more than 100 up for re-election on Nov. 6, and in many of those contests, the incumbent is in a strong position to return to the bench.

Plenty of people like their judicial races sleepy — judges are supposed to be nonpartisan, even if some candidates run under a party banner, and so far, Minnesota has avoided the kind of contentious, expensive supreme court elections that have cropped up in neighboring states like Wisconsin.

But when voters turn over their ballot on Tuesday, they’ll still have to pick a candidate in a contested race to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court, as well as a judge to serve for the next six years on the state’s Court of Appeals. And residents of Ramsey County will have a handful of contested races to sort through.

Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice

Margaret Chutich was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2016 by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton after applying for the job several times before. With her appointment, she became the first openly gay woman to serve on the high court, and she’s running for a second term on the bench after previously serving on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, in the attorney general’s office, and as an assistant U.S. attorney for Minnesota. She attended the University of Michigan Law School.

She’s being challenged by attorney Michelle MacDonald, who is making her third run at the Supreme Court. She’s a controversial candidate who had her license suspended by the Supreme Court earlier this year for her behavior in court, including repeatedly interrupting a judge and taking a photo in the courtroom. She was endorsed by the Republican Party in 2014 but the party has distanced themselves from her the last two election cycles. She received her law degree from Suffolk University

Court of Appeals

Lucinda Jesson is running her first re-election bid to the Court of Appeals, after being appointed to the bench by Dayton in 2016. Before that, she served as the governor’s commissioner of Human Services, leading a department that serves some of the most vulnerable populations in Minnesota and spends billions of state dollars every year. Before her work with Dayton, Jesson worked in private practice, in the attorney general’s office and served as a deputy Hennepin County attorney under now-U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She studied law at the University of Pennsylvania.

Attorney Anthony Brown, who has worked on both criminal and civil cases, is challenging Jesson. Originally from Chicago, he moved to Minnesota to attend law school at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. He touts his experience working for the “underdog,” including civil rights cases and those where employees have been mistreated by their employers. He’s been chair of the Human Rights Commission in St. Paul and did work with the Innocence Project of Minnesota.

First Judicial District (Dakota County)

Arlene Perkkio is an incumbent judge who was first appointed to the court by Dayton in 2011 and re-elected a year later. Prior to her judgeship, Perkkio’s was a part-time public defender and started her own practice focusing on representing non-citizen clients in immigration cases. She got her law degree at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

Martin “Marty” Judge (his website encourages voters to elect “Judge for Judge”) is a native of Dakota County who works in his own private practice focusing on areas of plaintiff personal injury claims and criminal defense work. He is running as a Republican. He also attended the Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

Second Judicial District (Ramsey County)

Incumbent judge DeAnne Hilgers was a reporter at The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota before going to law school at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. She spent years as a partner at one of Minnesota’s largest law firms, Ballard Spahr, before being appointed to the Ramsey County District Court bench by Dayton in 2017.

Thomas Andrew Handley Jr. is a public defender in the district and is challenging Hilgers this year. He has worked on a number of criminal cases and highlights the fact that he is a member of the “recovery community,” which he said gives him important insights into parts of the job that other judges don’t have.

Second Judicial District (Ramsey County)

Scott Flaherty is a partner at Briggs and Morgan, P.A. in Minneapolis and practices in the areas of intellectual property, as well as commercial, regulatory and criminal matters. Last session, he represented lobbyist Sarah Walker, who alleged former Republican Rep. Tony Cornish sexually harassed her dozens of times while she tried to do her work in St. Paul. He attended the University of Iowa College of Law.

He’s running against Adam Yang, a public defender in Hennepin County public defender’s office in the juvenile justice unit. He’s a founding member of the Hmong American Bar Association. He previously worked as an attorney with Neighborhood Justice Center, Inc., a non-profit criminal defense organization in St. Paul. He earned his law degree from Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

Second Judicial District (Ramsey County)

Judge Robyn Millenacker was appointed to the bench in Ramsey County in 2010 and won re-election in 2012, becoming an expert on sex-trafficking cases in the state. Before becoming a judge, she attended the University of Minnesota Law School and worked in private practice on product liability, business litigation and intellectual property disputes. She also served as assistant United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota.

Her challenger, Marcus Almon, started his legal career in the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office while attending law school at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. From there, he worked part time in the Ramsey County Public Defender’s Office in the juvenile division.

Second Judicial District (Ramsey County)

Incumbent Judge Tony Atwal was appointed to the bench by Dayton in 2016. It’s his first run for re-election as a judge, after serving several years in private practice and nearly a decade as an assistant appellate public defender in the state office. He studied law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. In May, the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards reprimanded Atwal for violating their code of conduct after he was caught driving while intoxicated on New Year’s Day.

He’s being challenged by Paul Yang, a Hmong refugee who came to America as a child. He grew up in Ramsey County and worked as a legislative aide. He started his own practice, working in criminal law, family and personal injury law. He’s also a part-time as a public defender for the state. He got his law degree from Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

Second Judicial District (Ramsey County)

Incumbent Judge Elena Ostby was first appointed to the district court by former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2004. She’s won re-election twice since then. Before becoming a judge, she worked in her own private practice for several years. Ostby got her law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Attorney Calandra Revering is challenging Ostby. She’s worked in the Ramsey County Attorney’s office and previously maintained her own private practice and served as interim director of the Neighborhood Justice Center. She went to Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

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