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Who will replace the state’s retiring chief justice?

The very few who noticed that Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Russell Anderson had not formed a re-election committee were not surprised Monday when he announced his retirement. But pretty much everyone else was.

At 65 Anderson could have served another five years. But he said his age and wife’s health fit into his decision to retire.

Besides cutting the number of Andersons on the bench down from three to two, Russell Anderson’s retirement means Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, will appoint a majority of the seven-member bench.

Who might be next? Eric Magnuson‘s name was on the tip of the lips of people willing to speculate.

Magnuson is known as a fine appellate attorney who has been before the Minnesota Supreme Court many times. Other top names include David Herr and Kay Nord Hunt.

If Pawlenty chooses someone from the Court of Appeals, likely candidates are Chief Judge Edward Toussaint, Judge Natalie Hudson and Judge Wilhelmina Wright.

But the smart money is on Magnuson, who chairs the governor’s judicial committee. Magnuson could not be reached for comment.

Magnuson joined Briggs and Morgan last year as a partner after 30 years with Rider Bennett, where he was a partner with Pawlenty. Rider Bennett closed May 31. He is the founding president of the Eighth Circuit Bar Association, a fellow and past president of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers and co-reporter to the Minnesota Supreme Court Appellate Rules Committee.

Pawlenty could name one of the current Supreme Court justices to the position of chief justice or bring in someone from the outside. Because Pawlenty’s three current appointees are relatively new to the job, they would likely be on equal footing with someone coming from outside the bench, according to Associate Justice Paul Anderson, who was appointed by Gov. Arne Carlson.

“I worked with Chief Justice Anderson as recently as a few weeks ago and there was no hint that he was going to retire,” said Will Fluegel, a lawyer who has argued many cases before the state Supreme Court. It’s important that the next chief justice be a good administrator, Fluegel said.

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, the Minnesota Supreme Court does not have blocks of judges who tend to vote together, according to Herr. So Russell Anderson’s retirement is not likely to shift the balance on the court.

However, Herr said that Russell Anderson brought to the center seat the experience of the trial judge he had been for many years.

“We’re going to miss Russ,” said Paul Anderson. “He was one of the nicest people. He had a very collegial style.”

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