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Twin Cities Daily Planet: Supreme Court race to the finish

TWIN CITIES DAILY PLANET

In a race that has recently heated up, Supreme Court Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea and Fourth District Court Judge Deborah Hedlund are battling for the Associate Justice seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court held by Gildea since her appointment by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in January 2006. Hedlund has been a trial judge in Minneapolis since 1980.

Hedlund thinks that voters should know more than they do about judges up for election, but she and Gildea both say politics should have no role in judicial campaigns.

For Hedlund, that stance wobbled a bit when she wondered if Gildea’s husband, Andy, who is the executive assistant to Minority Leader/GOP Caucus, might affect her balance of the law.

Gildea points to the fact she is the only candidate who has been hired by leaders from three different political parties. Former Gov. Jesse Ventura of the Independent Party appointed her to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed her to both the trial bench and the Supreme Court and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, hired Gildea to prosecute white-collar criminals and criminals who abused vulnerable adults when she was Hennepin County Attorney.

“I thought we’d gone past the time when something a woman’s husband does is used against her,” responded Gildea.

Experience is the main reason Hedlund thinks that she is the best candidate for Supreme Court. She has been elected five times by the public, has tried at least 21 murder cases and has 28 years of trial court experience as opposed to Gidea’s four months. Hedlund says her trial experience is important because most of the cases the Supreme Court reviews are criminal.

Hedlund, Muslims and controversy
Hedlund made the news recently over an e-mail that expressed anti-Muslim sentiments. She says she did not read all of the e-mail, which was sent to her and others from a campaign-sign vendor.

According to Hedlund, she clicked onto the e-mail and started talking about sign price negotiations, and then mistakenly hit “reply all.” Some readers thought Hedlund’s reply to the sign vendor was an agreement about the anti-Muslim statements.

“I’ll never forward another email in my life,” exclaimed Hedlund.

For details on the e-mail controversy, see Minnesota judicial races: Evangelical Supreme Court candidate tells anti-Muslim correspondent ‘We speak the same language.’

Gildea counters that the “length of trial experience might be relevant if we were running for a job on the trial court, but we’re not. We’re running for a job on the Supreme Court and I have almost three years of experience doing that job and my opponent has zero.”

“I take great pride in the opinions that I have had the privilege to write for the Supreme Court. I enjoy digging down and really exploring the issues of a case and then putting forth an opinion that is readable, logical and will stand the test of time,” said Gildea

Hedlund has handled as many as 500 to 800 civil cases a year. “I loved it – but I will say that I have very experienced law clerks,” she said.

Endorsements for Gildea include three former chief justices and three former associate justices, eight past State Bar Association presidents, 115 appellate lawyers, and three former Hennepin County judges, to name a few.

Joining the race late, Hedlund has a shorter list of endorsements. Hedlund expressed concern that perhaps those whom endorsed Gildea did not have a chance to change their minds.

“Endorsement is not an irrevocable act. Only one person has asked to be removed from my support list since my opponent entered the race. Supporters are still coming on board, including three of Judge Hedlund’s former colleagues,” said Gildea, “People who know what it takes to be a good Minnesota Supreme Court Justice are supporting me in this race.”

Both candidates have undergraduate degrees in political science. Hedlund earned her law degree from the University of Minnesota in 1972 and Gildea earned hers from Georgetown Law Center in 1986.

Both candidates have impressive resumes that can be viewed in full at the Minnesota Lawyer website, which also includes information about other candidates running for judicial offices. The Minnesota Lawyer blog also posted videos from both candidates.

Justice Gildea’s campaign web site has more information.
Judge Hedlund’s campaign web site has more information.

The Supreme Court decides which of the 700 or so cases that come before them, need review. Then the justices prepare for oral arguments, which entails many days spent on research and writing opinion.

The Supreme Court interprets the law and constitution on appeals from trial court decisions. Trial courts hear criminal and civil cases. Sometimes trials involve a judge and jury and sometimes the judge alone decides. In the Supreme Court, decisions are made collectively by all of the judges. They then issue decisions and written opinions. Hedlund is a strong supporter of using volunteers in the correction system and recruits them actively. She started a program called adopt-a-defendant, where mentors are provided for predominantly non-violent offenders to help them follow through with probation. “Someone outside the system, someone who really cares – makes a big difference,” said Hedlund of volunteers. “It’s one of the places where you can plug hope back in.”

Mary Schoen lives in White Bear Lake with her husband and her muse, Rudy, a Rat Terrier with Holstein markings. E-mail pmschoen@usfamily.net).

Before attending law school, Hedlund taught English at an inner-city high school in Kansas City, Missouri and for the past 11 years, has been an adjunct professor of criminal law, teaching one night a week at Northwestern College in St. Paul. In her free time, she is a competitive tennis player, loves to ski and garden.

While a lawyer for the University of Minnesota, Gildea was instrumental in the addition of women’s ice hockey teams there and in Duluth. She is an avid Gopher women’s sport fan to this day. “Some might say an unreasonable Gopher fan,” laughs Gildea. She is an equestrian and also a drummer, just like everyone else in her family.

Active involvement in the area of advancement for women is common in both candidates. Gildea currently serves on the Supreme Court Gender Fairness Implementation Committee, has served on the Minnesota’s YWCA Advisory Board from the summer of 2000 until the summer of 2003, is involved in the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program, which teaches high school seniors how government and the political process work on national and local levels.

“Today at the court room, I spoke to a government class from Kasson-Mantorville, and met with the Women Law Student Association over lunch,” said Gildea.

Hedlund is involved as a resource and mentor for Girls in Action, a North Community High School program aimed at providing encouragement, instilling confidence and helping set personal goals. She has been part of both minority and gender task forces.

“Something I’ve enjoyed lately is being invited to foreign countries to speak on human rights, especially the rights of women,” said Hedlund. She was recently in India where she spoke about how dowries can be lethal to new brides, among other things.

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