The new chairwoman of Minnesota’s judicial selection commission delivered a sweeping mandate to communities across the state to help identify the “legal leaders” who will make the state’s courts better reflect the people they serve.
“There is a deep pool of potential applicants from all backgrounds, from all walks of life, all sectors of the profession, all across this great state who are today ready to become judges,” said Lola Velazquez-Aguilu, an attorney for Medtronic who also recently worked as a federal prosecutor. “But they may not know it yet. So it is incumbent upon us to tell them.”
Gov. Tim Walz described Velazquez-Aguilu’s appointment on Wednesday as among the most important appointments a new governor can make. He made the announcement flanked by Lt. Gov Peggy Flanagan and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea.
Velazquez-Aguilu has held one of the commission’s 49 seats since 2016. Walz, Flanagan and Velazquez-Aguilu lauded the commission under former Gov. Mark Dayton for dramatically expanding the judiciary’s racial and gender diversity over the past eight years.
“In so many ways the judicial selection process represents the best of Minnesota,” Velazquez-Aguilu said.
Velazquez-Aguilu’s post is voluntary and unpaid, and she will oversee commissioners appointed by both the governor and Supreme Court — which include both attorneys and non-attorneys representing the state’s 10 judicial districts. The commission recruits and screens applicants for vacancies in the state’s trial courts and the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals.
“This merit selection process has served Minnesota well,” Gildea said Wednesday. “And I’m confident that under Lola’s leadership, the commission will continue to do so.”
Asked if he intended to adhere to the commission’s recommendations when making appointments — including vacancies on the state’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court — Walz said that, while the law allows him to, he “can’t imagine a situation” where he would depart from its recommendation.
“I think it fits both myself and the lieutenant governor’s style of leadership to surround ourselves with very smart folks who understand what’s happening,” Walz said. “I trust their judgment. I need them.”
Velazquez-Aguilu works as litigation and investigations counsel at Medtronic and previously worked in private practice and as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota. She also recently worked on state Attorney General Keith Ellison’s transition committee. She has also led the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association’s Judicial Endorsements Committee and previously clerked for U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery and former Justice Alan Page.
Velazquez-Aguilu replaces former Chief Deputy Attorney General Lee Sheehy as the commission chair. Sheehy said Wednesday that before joining the commission, Velazquez-Aguilu already worked to improve access to the courts for people and affinity groups “which have historically been underrepresented.”
“The door of opportunity to becoming a judge in Minnesota will be wide open to all under her leadership,” Montgomery added in a statement following her former law clerk’s appointment.