Eric Magnuson, chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, today announced plans to leave the bench on June 30.
Once Pawlenty’s law partner, Magnuson has been a vocal critic of budget cuts forced on the state court system during the last two legislative sessions but made no mention of the increasing financial pressure the justice system faces. Last year, he was instrumental in creating a coalition that worked to publicize the backlogs of cases and other challenges the state’s bare-bones budget would have on the courts.
“It has been my privilege to serve as Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court for the past two years,” Magnuson said in a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty. “I have found the position to be both challenging and rewarding. However, for reasons personal to me and my family, I have decided to step down and return to private practice.”
Because of the cuts, many Minnesota courts have been forced to reduce hours, public defender caseloads have risen far above nationally recognized standards, and the cost of attorney licenses was raised sharply to raise revenue.
State court officials have testified this year before the Legislature to the size of the problem posed by the governor’s current budget request, which includes some $12 million in additional cuts to courts. Most said they are still scrambling to deal with deficits from last year and with Pawlenty’s “unallotment” action last summer.
Magnuson’s outspoken opposition was notable because of his association with the governor who mandated the cost-cutting, but also because his predecessors were rarely critical of the legislative process.
In a brief statement, Pawlenty said: “Leading Minnesota’s judicial system and heading our highest court is an extremely important and tough job. Chief Justice Magnuson has served in this role over the past two years with great diligence, thoughtfulness, and fairness. Minnesota thanks him for his service.”
When he steps down Magnuson, 59, will have been the state’s top jurist for just two years. At the time Pawlenty appointed him to the court, he was an attorney and a shareholder in the business litigation department at the Briggs and Morgan law firm in Minneapolis, where he worked mostly on appeals. Before that, Magnuson and Pawlenty were partners at the now-defunct firm Rider Bennett.
While chief justice, he also served on the five-member Minnesota Canvassing Board that reviewed ballots in the disputed Senate election recount between Al Franken and Norm Coleman.
Before his appointment to the high court, Magnuson was head of Pawlenty’s judicial screening committee. He plans to return to private practice.