The attorney who won one of the most crowded judicial elections in Minnesota history said on Wednesday that the race probably served as an educational tool and that voters now better understand what judges do.

Tad Jude, a Fridley attorney and a former state legislator, topped 23 other candidates and will replace retiring Judge Tom Armstrong in the 10th Judicial District in Stillwater.

With all 24 candidates having to file by petition -- each one had to secure 500 signatures of support -- democracy was served by more face-to-face contact between candidates and voters, Jude said.

He said voters asked him how judges differ from legislators. "One sets policy and the other applies the law," he told them. "That's a good civics lesson both for the public and the candidate. You have 24 good people doing that."

Among his opponents, he said, "there's a deep, deep bench of ability" and said he hoped Minnesota's next governor would consider them for future judicial appointments.

Jude credited his name recognition for his success Tuesday. He has practiced law in Stillwater and Anoka. In the 1970s and 1980s, he served in the state House of Representatives for 10 years and the state Senate for six.

Jude said he did some door-to-door campaigning but relied on a network of family and friends to help him campaign in the 10th District, which covers eight counties. He begins work in Washington County District Court in Stillwater on Jan. 3.

The job, which pays $129,154 a year, puts Jude in front of every conceivable dispute and crime.

"I know that virtually every issue of humanity may show up on the courthouse steps," he said. "I intend to apply the law and the Constitution as written, to consider the facts before me and treat everyone with respect."

The race started with only one candidate in June, when Armstrong filed for a fifth six-year term. Hours before the filing deadline, his longtime law clerk, Dawn Hennessy, also filed. Armstrong subsequently withdrew from the race, leaving Hennessy as the only candidate.

The maneuver fueled immediate controversy and led to calls for judicial reform. Hennessy then withdrew her name from the ballot, but she filed again when the secretary of state reopened the race. Hennessy drew the seventh-highest vote total Tuesday.

Jude, 58, said on Wednesday that he doesn't see a need for a judicial overhaul in Minnesota because contested elections and "scare stories" about bad judges are rare. The race, however, would have benefited from a primary election to reduce the long list of candidates, he said.

"We just hoped and prayed that someone wouldn't skip over a race with 24 names on it," said Jude, who received 39,846 votes, or nearly 16 percent.

Kevin Giles • 651-735-3342