A Washington County judgeship that was undisputed at one point could end up drawing the most candidates of any countywide race.

With Thursday's 5 p.m. deadline looming for candidates to gather 500 signatures to get their names on the Nov. 2 ballot, at least two people have reached that goal, and at least two others were circulating petitions.

Kelley Malone O'Neill and Bridgid Dowdal said they have each gathered the necessary number of signatures.

Malone O'Neill is a managing attorney in the Ramsey County Public Defender's Office, where she has worked for about 20 years. The Woodbury resident was one of five finalists for a judicial vacancy in Washington County in 2006.

Dowdal, a county resident who is an assistant dean at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, is a former federal prosecutor. She formerly practiced law with her father, Emmett, and was a law clerk for former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Sandra Gardebring.

At least two other candidates were circulating nominating petitions in the 10th Judicial District, which includes Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Pine, Sherburne, Washington and Wright counties. Seat 3, left vacant with the abrupt retirement of Judge Thomas Armstrong, is in Washington County.

Brian LeClair, who represented Woodbury in the state Senate from 2003 to 2007, is trying to get his name on the ballot. He now works on the staff of Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Jennifer Bovitz of Cottage Grove, an assistant county attorney who has worked for the county for the past 11 years, was also trying to gather names.

The seat became vacant after both Judge Thomas Armstong and his longtime law clerk, Dawn Hennessy, withdrew their names under unusual circumstances.

Armstrong, the 30-year incumbent, was unchallenged until the last day candidates could file to have their names put on the ballot. At the last minute, Hennessy then filed. The next day, Armstrong sent a retirement letter to Pawlenty, leaving Hennessy's the only name on the ballot.

As questions were raised about the circumstances, she then withdrew, leaving the ballot empty and setting off a scramble to gather the names by the deadline laid out in state law.

Jim Anderson • 612-673-7199