I found Charles Lundberg's commentary ("How to vote for a judge when you don't know the first thing about it," Oct. 21) to be self-serving and insulting to the intelligence of Minnesota voters.
His argument can be paraphrased thusly: "Appellate lawyers know best. We'll let you know how to vote -- or just vote for the incumbent; they're good enough for us." Sound silly? Of course it does. It's absurd, and it serves only to perpetuate an incestuous and elitist club of insiders.
We are to accept that appellate lawyers, who appear before and argue cases in front of appellate judges, are best qualified to publicly review the performance of those same judges. Oh, yes, and the fox will take good care of the henhouse while we're all sleeping.
Lundberg's weighty legal rationale for all of this? "Generally speaking, appellate judges learn and improve and get better at the job over time." Doh! Doesn't everyone, generally speaking? If this is the case, why hold any official up for election at all? Just think of how much better our governor, congressional members and president would be if we just let them keep their jobs and bring to bear all the experience they've gained in office?
The second flash of brilliance: Lundberg forwards, as reason to vote for the incumbent, that challengers "are normally not as well-qualified or suited to the office ..." Not as well-qualified according to whom? Appellate lawyers? By definition, the qualifications require only a valid law license. Any standard others attempt to impose is arbitrary. Besides, who is to say a challenger wouldn't do an even better job than the incumbent?
Lundberg's reasoning doesn't pass the smell test, not even a whiff. Where did the incumbents originally come from? After all, they were not always incumbents.
There's the rub. The incumbents are not elected, but bypass this step and get appointed by the governor, then are allowed to skip their first election cycle, having only to stand again in the second election following their appointment, as ... ta-da! ... the incumbent.
This is the system as it is practiced in Minnesota, and that is an empirical fact. The reason most judges are appointed is by practice of taking regular advantage of an exception clause in our state Constitution that grants the governor the power to appoint a successor to an office that has been vacated prior to completion of the term. Judges can intentionally fail to complete their term, allowing a sympathetic governor to appoint their successor, thereby preventing the citizens from being involved in the selection process.
While Lundberg would have us blindly trust the standards and judgment of appellate lawyers in casting our vote for a judge, we rarely get a true chance to choose a judge to begin with, and instead it is left to the discretion of the governor, and to whatever that person's criteria is in appointing a judge.
Some examples of the eminently qualified? Arne Carlson gave judgeships to his chief of staff, to a campaign attorney, to his sister-in-law and to his attorney in the governor's office. Rudy Perpich named one of his former commissioners to the state Supreme Court and named his campaign manager to the district bench. This process is ripe for cronyism and holds no better prospect for realizing qualified judges than the basic requirement to hold a valid law license and stand before the public in a vote.
So the real practice being advocated by Lundberg is to have the governor choose our judges, who then become incumbents, who we are then told to vote for by the likes of Lundberg and the clan of appellate lawyers, because they are ... incumbents.
The burden on the individual voter in deciding for whom to vote is the same for judgeships as for any other elected office, and that is to take an interest in the candidates, do some homework, and care enough to know for what and whom they are voting.
Certainly voters should spend a little time to consider the challengers in the two races for Supreme Court justice, Tim Tinglestad and Deborah Hedlund, and the single challenger for Court of Appeals judge, Dan Griffith. After all, the incumbents were someone else's former appointments, so let them stand before the voters now.
We elect governors, don't we? Why not judges, too?
Paul Woods, Cottage Grove, is a product manager for a publishing firm.