For the first time in decades, someone who is not already sitting on the Minnesota Supreme Court will step into the court's top job.

Described as a "lawyer's lawyer," Eric Magnuson, 57, was named the court's chief justice on Monday by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The appointment consolidates Pawlenty's imprint on the high court, giving his choices a majority, including a chief justice who has headed Pawlenty's judicial selection board.

A well-known figure in legal circles, Magnuson is an attorney and shareholder at Briggs and Morgan in Minneapolis, specializing in appellate law.

Magnuson was previously a partner and 30-year attorney at the Rider Bennett firm before it disbanded last year. Pawlenty once toiled there as a young associate. The two were later partners in the firm together.

An expert in appellate law, Magnuson has written several texts on the subject. "He is one of the most respected appellate lawyers in the country," the governor said, and the most distinguished in Minnesota. "I am pleased that he has set aside his private life for a while to serve."

Tall and imposing, with a slightly graying goatee, Magnuson said he was at a "loss for words" and found the appointment "truly humbling."

His appointment marks the first time since the 1930s that someone other than a current or former Supreme Court associate justice has been named to the top post.

Justice Paul Anderson called Magnuson "a great appointment," and said that while naming an outsider to the chief spot is unusual, Magnuson was so familiar with the court's workings that the transition "should be very smooth."

He replaces departing Chief Justice Russell Anderson, who announced last week that he will step down in June, in part to care for his ailing wife.

"He is an appellate lawyer's appellate lawyer," Chief Justice Anderson said. "I couldn't feel better about this outstanding appointment."

As head of the judicial selection board for the past five years, Magnuson has had a hand in shaping the court by recommending Pawlenty's previous three appointments.

Charlie Weaver, a former chief of staff for Pawlenty who helped select Magnuson for the judicial selection commission, said Magnuson is a longtime friend of both Pawlenty and his wife, Mary, who also was a Rider alum.

"He's brilliant," Weaver said. "Well respected by both clients and the people he opposes, which is always a good measure. He's a thoughtful, articulate advocate, very even-handed, with a great sense of humor. He doesn't take himself too seriously. He's a perfect leader for the court."

Magnuson was ranked by his peers as one of the "Best Lawyers in America" in last year's annual "Guide to Appellate Law in America."

Pawlenty also named Ronald Schutz to replace Magnuson as head of the judicial selection commission. Schutz is an intellectual property lawyer and partner at Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi.

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288