District court judges dispense retail justice, handling a vast diversity of cases and becoming the embodiment of the law for most Minnesotans. Their skill and demeanor largely determine whether the legal system is perceived as fair.
Hennepin County voters will encounter a rare challenge Nov. 6 -- two district court elections in which neither candidate is an incumbent. Two judges are retiring at the end of their terms, leaving the choice of their successors to voters.
Fine trial judges come from many backgrounds, not least from prosecutors' offices, legal departments of major institutions, and large law firms. But we believe the bench is also well-served by judges who have practiced retail law, representing ordinary people facing ordinary (but for them, momentous) problems, and troubled people facing extraordinary problems. It's helpful, as one courthouse source puts it, if a judge knows what it's like to practice law when it's an achievement just to get your client to court on the right day.
Our assessments are informed by this conviction, as well as by interviews with the four well-qualified candidates and additional reporting.
Lois Conroy, 41, has been a prosecutor in the Minneapolis city attorney's office for 14 years. She has led a well-regarded community partnership effort called Downtown 100 to develop strategies for dealing with chronic offenders in the downtown area. She cites awards and recognition from law enforcement and business organizations as reflecting the quality of her work and her commitment to doing justice.
Marc Berris, 44, has for 18 years been an attorney in private practice representing a variety of clients in both criminal and civil matters. He also serves as a Conciliation Court referee and works part time as a deputy sheriff in Meeker County. He believes his almost daily courtroom work, along with his varied activities in the legal system, prepare him to understand and respect all points of view.
We believe Berris would bring an exceptionally rich range of experiences to the bench that makes him the better choice in this race.
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Elizabeth Cutter, 60, is a prosecutor in the Hennepin County attorney's office, leading its efforts on domestic violence. She has served in the office since 1988, following eight years with the Minnesota attorney general's office. A past president of Minnesota Women Lawyers, she has held leadership posts with a variety of legal and community organizations. She cites her extensive trial experience and broad community service as ideal preparation for the bench.
Steven Antolak, 55, has been a lawyer in diverse private practice since 1986, having begun his career with the Hennepin County attorney's office. He was elected to one term on the Osseo Area school board in 2005, has served on the Brooklyn Park Planning and Human Rights commissions, and has led a fraternal life insurance association. He believes he has special compassion for ordinary people and says judges should think about litigants' practical problems, such as the way court scheduling practices can drive up legal costs.
The variety of Antolak's clients and perspectives make him the better choice in our view.
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•Hennepin County, seat 22: Steven E. Antolak
•Hennepin County, seat 44: Marc S. Berris