Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chutich and Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Lucinda Jesson should be elected to full six-year terms Nov. 6, in the only contested statewide judicial races on this year’s ballot.
Elections for judges can often prove puzzling for voters, who have little information about the candidates in such contests and may be uncertain how to evaluate judicial qualifications. Minnesota’s so-called “hybrid system” for selecting judges — in which most judges are initially appointed by a governor with the advice of a merit selection process, and only later stand for election, often unopposed — has its critics. But Minnesota would not be better served by the kind of wide-open, big-spending, hyperpartisan judicial politicking some other states endure, undermining confidence in their courts.
For Minnesota voters, the Editorial Board’s advice has long been to look for experience, intellect and independence of mind — and to retain incumbent judges, who have nearly always reached the bench through a merit-based screening process, in the absence of clear reasons to replace them. This fall, that advice leads plainly to votes for Chutich and Jesson.
Margaret Chutich, 60, was appointed to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2016, following a richly varied legal career. Her background has included stints in private civil practice, in criminal prosecution and criminal appeals work for both the state Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. attorney, as a higher education administrator and as an appeals court judge from 2012-2014.
Chutich’s wide experience with a diverse array of clients and cases, and her extensive work as both a litigator and an appellate advocate, have prepared her well to be the kind of “quick study” and “proven generalist” she says is needed to master the boundless variety of disputes that eventually find their way to the state’s highest court.
Her dedication to delivering evenhanded justice is reflected in her habits of declining to examine mug shots in criminal cases and of testing her analysis of the facts of a case by, among other things, imagining the genders of disputants reversed.
Chutich’s opponent is Michelle MacDonald, 56, a private family law attorney making her third bid for a Supreme Court seat. MacDonald has a history of controversy and legal trouble, including charges of professional misconduct that led to her law license being suspended for 60 days by the Supreme Court earlier this year. Her background and temperament do not measure up to comparison with the incumbent’s.
Lucinda Jesson, 60, brought a rare and valuable type of experience to the bench when she was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2016. For five previous years, she had served as commissioner of Minnesota’s largest state agency, the Department of Human Services, managing a vast bureaucracy, overseeing huge budgets and programs serving needy and demanding constituencies, and often navigating a treacherous political landscape. Jesson’s efforts to bring sensible reform to the long-embattled Minnesota Sex Offender Program were particularly noteworthy.
Jesson’s firsthand understanding of the complex realities of public administration brings an often-missing perspective to court deliberations on many legal disputes. Her earlier legal background is also impressive, including roles as a law professor, as a private and public litigator and as chief deputy in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
Jesson’s zest for the court’s work and her commitment to accessibility and transparency are visible in her decision to post all the opinions she has authored in two years (some 150 of them) on her campaign website for the public to examine.
Jesson is challenged by private St. Paul attorney Anthony (A.L.) Brown. He declined to seek the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s endorsement.
Voters will be well served by giving both Chutich and Jesson full elective terms.