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Dayton appoints Moore, Vajgrt

Gordon Moore1 / 2
Terry Vajgrt2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday announced the appointment of Gordon Moore and Terry Vajgrt to fill two vacancies in the Fifth Judicial District Court system.

Moore will replace Judge Jeffrey Flynn in Nobles County, and Vajgrt will be seated in a vacancy created when Judge Timothy Connell retired. That position is co-chambered in Pipestone and Rock County District Courts.

The two attorneys were chosen from a group of four semi-finalists who interviewed with Dayton Friday. Connell's seat has been open since his retirement in mid-October, 2011. He has filled in as a senior judge in the interim. Flynn is scheduled to retire later this month and will work as a senior judge on civil litigation.

Moore currently serves as the Nobles County Attorney, and was last elected for a four-year term in 2010. Because his term has yet to expire, the county attorney position will be filled by appointment, according to Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert.

"According to Minnesota State Statute, the board fills by appointment for the unexpired term," Ruppert explained, adding that no discussion has yet taken place between board members regarding Moore's office. "In my experience, they can appoint someone internally, or even solicit applications and go through a recruitment process."

In the interim, the assistant county attorneys have the knowledge and experience to handle the office, he said, so it is not a panic situation.

Vajgrt, a 1981 graduate of Worthington High School, is an assistant public defender for the state of Minnesota and maintains a private practice in Luverne.

He contracts with Rock, Pipestone and Nobles counties to represent parents in child protection cases and respondents in adult civil commitment matters. He previously worked as a partner in the law firm of Klosterbuer and Vajgrt and is a former assistant Rock County attorney.

Vajgrt also served as assistant city attorney for Luverne and was an adjunct professor of criminal law at Colorado Technical University. He is a member of the Southwestern Minnesota Mental Health Center Board of Directors and is chairman of the Nobles-Rock Community Corrections Advisory Board.

Before becoming a county attorney, Moore was an associate attorney with Von Holtum, Malters & Shepherd, where he served as assistant city attorney for Worthington.

He also served as Special Assistant Attorney in the Transportation and Employment Divisions of the Minnesota Attorney General's Office.

He is a member of the Nobles County Child Protection Team and a former board chairman of both Worthington School District 518 and the Worthington Area YMCA.

Moore said since the announcement Wednesday things have been a whirlwind.

"It's been a day I won't soon forget, that's for sure," he stated. "There are tons of mixed emotions."

Moore said his wife, Jane, is both pleased and relieved. He admitted he had just been speaking with someone in his office about how distracting the application, interview and waiting process could be.

"I told her it was hard to focus," he said. "She gave me good advice as always about living in the present and not the future. I joked with her that it was tough when the world could change in 30 seconds. I think it was maybe a minute later when I got the call from the governor's office."

The meeting in his office to share the news was bittersweet, Moore said.

"I'm incredibly honored to be chosen and to be trusted with this responsibility, yet I value the nine years I've been the county attorney and don't lightly leave an elected office early," he admitted. "It bothered me to do so. I don't want people to feel as thought I'm abandoning the office."

Moore is meeting with the Fifth Judicial District Administrator Friday to discuss the next steps in the process. According to Blake Chaffee of the governor's office, the administrator will work with the new judges to plan the process.

"These folks have other jobs," Chaffee explained. "When they move into their judgeship depends on when they can end their official employment."

As of Jan 27, there will be no sitting judge in a three-county area, only retired judges, so the district needs the new judges sworn in and performing duties as soon as possible. But both Moore and Vajgrt has responsibilities to clients, the courts, the counties and the state.

The new judges will be privately sworn in so they can begin their new duties, then can plan a public swearing-in ceremony that includes family, friends and the public.

A plan to avoid conflicts of interest will also need to be developed. Both Vajgrt and Moore have been involved in a large number of cases -- Vajgrt as a defense attorney and Moore as a prosecutor or the person who oversees the prosecution.

Swapping the two seats for the first few months may help alleviate some of the conflicts, and is likely to occur, Moore said.

"All judges are ethically prohibited from sitting on a case they had any involvement in," he stated. "Avoiding conflicts is going to be a challenge in the first few months, and I suspect I'll be spending time in Rock and Pipestone counties."

Having new judges in a close area is both good and bad, Moore said -- good because they can consult with each other and learn together, but bad because it creates a huge experience gap.

"We're going to need a lot of support and encouragement," Moore said with a laugh. "The only thing I'm sure of is there's a lot I don't know."

Vajgrt was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

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Reporter Justine Wettschreck at 376-7322.