Minnesota high court chief justice to step down; he spent 10 years on the bench, two in top spot

  • Article by: PATRICIA LOPEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 11, 2008 - 1:43 AM

"It's time," says Russell Anderson, 66, who has been a judge for 25 years. His departure means Pawlenty will name his fourth justice and second chief to the court.

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Chief Justice Russell Anderson

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Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Russell Anderson said Monday that he will retire this June, allowing Gov. Tim Pawlenty to make his fourth appointment to the high court and to name his second chief justice.

Anderson, 66, said his age and his wife's health drove his decision. While he has served on the court since 1998, Anderson has been chief justice barely two years.

Nevertheless, Anderson said on Monday, "It's time. I've been at this for a quarter of a century, since I was a district court judge in the Red River Valley. I've enjoyed the nature of my work."

In a statement on Monday, Pawlenty described Anderson as an "extraordinary leader and public servant" who had "committed his life to protecting and upholding our state and nation's values and principles." It was Pawlenty who elevated Anderson to chief justice in 2006. Gov. Arne Carlson had initially appointed him to the court.

Fellow Justice Paul Anderson said Russell Anderson's quiet, collaborative leadership style and long years of trial court experience will be missed.

"He really put a high premium on collegiality and inclusiveness," said Justice Paul Anderson, who has been friends with the chief justice since the two were at law school together. "You'll never find a nicer, easier, kinder person to work with," he said. "He put his own ego aside and put the best interests of the court first, always. I'm sad to see him leave."

Typically a bastion of stability where gray-haired justices grow old together, the court has seen more than its share of change lately. Justice Sam Hanson stepped down in January after six years on the bench to return to private practice. Christopher Dietzen, a former appeals court judge and one-time campaign lawyer for Pawlenty, started last month as Hanson's replacement.

"That's quite a lot of change for a court in a short time," Justice Paul Anderson said. "Part of what makes a court work is its institutional memory, and we're losing some of ours here."

Chief Justice Anderson said he plans to spend time with his wife and family and perhaps fit in a trip to Japan, where he was stationed with the Navy during the Vietnam War.

The son of a gas station owner and a homemaker, Anderson said he was the first in his family to attend college and chose the law because "when I was growing up, lawyers were the leaders in the community."

Since then, he said, he has never tired of tearing apart the intricacies of the law.

"You're dealing with one human condition at a time," he said of his years on the bench. "We're taking the law and applying it in real-life situations to the lives of people. That has been very rewarding work."

Brian McClung, Pawlenty's spokesman, said no date has been set for appointing Anderson's replacement.

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288

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