Carlton County loses in judge selection
The final list of candidates for the replacement of retiring Carlton County Judge Dale Wolf has been finalized and the vote is in. A Carlton County attorney is not on the governor's list to replace him.
When a sitting judge retires or dies, the sitting governor, who is now Gov. Mark Dayton, is able to appoint a replacement to hold that position until the next election. A DFL governor has not made an appointment in the Sixth Judicial District for over 20 years. The last was made by Gov. Rudy Perpich. All voters of the Sixth Judicial District vote at election time on the judges, and incumbent judges are generally re-elected.
The governor has a committee made up of judges and appointees from the public throughout the state who receive applications for interested attorneys and interview candidates. A position is open in the Duluth courthouse and one in the Carlton courthouse at this time. Traditionally, interested candidates are screened and three to five candidates for each position are forwarded to the governor for his selection.
Three candidates who were attorneys from Carlton County and worked regularly on cases at the Carlton courthouse applied, but only one, Frank Yetka, was interviewed. A list was compiled of only four names to be forwarded to the governor for the two judge seats and all the candidates were Duluth attorneys, three women and one man. The Duluth attorneys are: Leslie Beiers, Jill Eikenwall Cornwall, Theresa Neo and Nate Stumme.
Carlton County courts have a backlog of cases which many say is because there is a caseload for 2.8 judges but only two judges preside there. Periodically, Judge Shaun Floerke, head of the Sixth Judicial District, has assigned an extra judge to help out. Generally, the courthouse remains under-staffed compared to the Duluth courts.
Carlton County Chairman Dick Brenner, when called, said, "This, I think, is a big injustice to Carlton County residents. We have a highly qualified attorney in Frank Yetka who applied for the Carlton County judgeship. This selection is going against the traditional way judges have been chosen. There is talk Gov. Dayton has wanted to appoint some women for these positions and we had a woman apply. I am very unhappy about this."
It can be noted that for some time discussion has been held among the sitting judges that there needs to be an overhaul of the courthouse system. Several of the sitting judges are appointees of Republican governors and have been selected from attorneys experienced as prosecutors. Regional court hubs in large population areas have been discussed.
"It is a shame," commented Patty Murto, former director of the Volunteer Attorney Program for Northeast Minnesota. "We have several ideal Carlton County attorneys that could have been picked. I worry that this will hurt the pool of practicing attorneys in our more rural communities because they will not be considered for a judicial appointment. It appears a Duluth attorney will only be considered for our area."
Several local residents are writing to the governor and are encouraging others to do so also. The governor does not have to pick his choices from the committee's recommended list of four.