For 32 years Tom Haeg has worked as a Hennepin County District Court referee, handling cases in housing court, family and juvenile courts. He performed nearly all the duties of a judge. ¶ The 60-year-old Minneapolis resident said he loved his work, got along with his colleagues and had great job reviews. So it came as a shock when Chief Judge Lucy Wieland and assistant chief Judge James Swenson decided to eliminate his position as of Friday. Haeg said he was given the option of becoming a child support magistrate. ¶ So Haeg wants to take a stand. He has filed to run for office against Swenson. He is leaving his job.

Haeg's move and nascent judicial campaign are the talk of Hennepin County District Court legal circles. He said he's running to provide an alternative to appointed judges, to bring to light the "cryptic and political maneuvers" that Swenson "exhibited, tolerated and participated in," and to engage the community in the judicial process.

Swenson declined to comment on the situation, deferring to Wieland through an aide. Wieland said she was puzzled by Haeg's decision because he still has a job and his same pay.

She said tight finances forced many personnel moves in the court system. "All of these changes that were made courtwide were budget-driven. They weren't decisions that were personal or directed at any one person," Wieland said.

Wieland said that Haeg may not like his new assignment, but that many people don't like theirs, either. She noted that on Aug. 1 she will begin a two-year rotation in juvenile court.

Haeg admits he's angry and saddened about the loss of his job, but added, "I'm trying to get over my emotions and all that to make a positive statement."

He doesn't buy the argument that his reassignment was budget driven. He noted a new magistrate was hired shortly before he was told his post would be eliminated. Wieland said she had no role in that decision.

As a child support magistrate, Haeg wouldn't face a cut to his $110,000-a year salary. But he said it's a matter of principle. He views the reassignment as a big step down from his wide-ranging work as a referee. As a magistrate he would handle only child support payment disputes.

Haeg, who is married and has three children, said his family supports his decision to challenge Swenson, even though it's "David vs. Goliath."

He wants the world to know how Wieland and Swenson treated him, calling their actions "star chamber" maneuvers. "The way I've been treated is disrespectful and abusive," he said. "Neither one had the courtesy to call me up."

Wieland said she never spoke with Haeg about his job. But "these were a series of decisions that affected many employees and were dealt with by the administration. This is how we do business," she said.

He also believes he's highly qualified to be a judge. He said colleagues over the years encouraged him to run, but he loved his job. "I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't feel completely honest and sincere," Haeg said.

He hasn't raised any money yet. Haeg said he has a three-pronged campaign. He will talk about his career as a "faithful, dedicated judicial officer;" he will talk about the actions of Wieland and Swenson, and he will highlight his many efforts at community engagement.

To become a magistrate, Haeg said, he would have to take an examination. He has decided against it. "Under the circumstances, I think it's best that I just devote my full attention to the campaign."

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747