Minnesota high court to consider judge's oath
- Article by: Brandon Stahl
- Star Tribune
- March 3, 2014 - 9:47 PM
Frustrated with his divorce case, John Myser turned the tables on his judge, who now faces a review by the Minnesota Supreme Court over whether she took the required oath of office.
Scott County District Judge Caroline Lennon said through a court official that she did. Myser believes he has proof that she didn’t, and took his evidence to the attorney general, the governor, the Legislature, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, which accepted the case even though lower courts have already ruled in Lennon’s favor.
“This is a massive coverup. The law is very clear,” said Myser, 55, a Mendota Heights resident and former Silicon Valley executive who now volunteers his time in conflict resolution. “Every case that she’s touched is tainted.”
Lennon was assigned to Myser’s divorce case after he filed in April 2012. Myser said he felt Lennon was biased and filed a motion asking that she recuse herself. She refused.
He said he then began investigating what rules applied to judges.
State law requires judges to take an oath before entering the duties of the office and file that oath with the secretary of state. If judges refuse or neglect to take an oath, the office is vacated. Lennon was appointed to the bench by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2008, then elected in 2010.
“I went to the secretary of state to see if she had an oath of office to see if she was following that rule,” said Myser. The office sent him letter dated Jan. 2, 2013, that said: “Oath for Caroline Lennon not found.”
Myser and his attorney, Michelle MacDonald, said they then brought the information to Lennon and again asked her to recuse herself, saying she was unfit for office. She again refused.
On Jan. 18, 2013, Lennon signed an oath, which was filed with the secretary of state five days later.
According to the secretary of state’s office, only two of the 109 judges elected in 2010 did not file oaths in 2011 — Lennon and Goodhue County Judge Lawrence Clark. Clark signed his oath on Jan. 3, 2011, but it wasn’t filed until Feb. 13, 2013.
Lennon declined to speak with the Star Tribune but said through a court official that she verbally took the oath soon after her election. The official said that when Lennon discovered no oath was on file, she sent one to the secretary of state’s office.
MacDonald said that if the Supreme Court finds that Lennon didn’t take the oath, it could jeopardize all of the cases she presided over after she was elected.
“The courts don’t want this exposed. It’s that serious,” said MacDonald. “The damages could be enormous.”
Lennon has presided over or taken part in 285 cases between her election and when she filed her oath last year, according to the Minnesota Court Information Office.
After Lennon declined to recuse herself a second time, Myser and MacDonald petitioned the chief judge of the First Judicial District, Edward Lynch, to remove Lennon from the divorce case. He denied the request in February 2013. Lynch wrote that state cases from 1915 and 1955 established that “any judge who fails to file an oath of office but who is otherwise lawfully acting under color of a known appointment or election is a de facto judge.”
MacDonald took Myser’s case to the state appellate court in April. The Court of Appeals upheld Lynch’s decision, writing that while “district court judges are to take an oath of office … the acts of a de facto public officer ‘performed under the authority of the office which he holds are valid.’ ”
Myser appealed to the state Supreme Court on June 21, arguing that Lennon failed to qualify for the office.
On July 9, Lennon ordered Myser be jailed for 90 days for contempt of court because he had not completed child support paperwork. Her order said he could be released if he completed an application for automatic child support withholding.
MacDonald and Myser denied that he had failed to pay child support. MacDonald said it was a clear retaliation against her client.
“He wasn’t even given a bail amount,” MacDonald said.
Myser was released on July 19 on the order of another judge.
The Supreme Court agreed to review Myser’s case within the next month, but will take no testimony until it has ruled on another case involving whether Hennepin District Judge Patricia Kerr Karasov had the authority to preside over cases despite living outside her district. The Supreme Court last took oral arguments on that case in June 2013.
Brandon Stahl • 612-673-4626
© 2014 Star Tribune