Editor's note: The Globe Editor Ryan McGaughey recently spoke with Nobles County District Judge Gordon Moore, who was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court on May 15 by Gov. Tim Walz. The following are Moore's responses (edited for brevity) to the second five of 10 questions. The first of two question-and-answer interviews appeared in the June 10 edition.
Q: Being a judge in Worthington has meant hearing a variety of different cases, and working with people from multiple cultural backgrounds. Do you feel like your experience here has prepared you well as you take your next professional step?
A: Yes, the experience I have had in Nobles County has prepared me well for this new challenge. The unique cultural diversity in Nobles County court has given me a better awareness of and appreciation for the broad cultural diversity within our state, and the general nature of the cases here has given me exposure to a wide array of legal issues.
The district court in outstate counties is a court of general jurisdiction where the judges handle all case types and develop familiarity with all aspects of the district court. A number of outstate district court judges have told me they’re appreciative somebody’s going on the Supreme Court who’s handled drainage cases and other agricultural and probate-type proceedings that are more typically seen in rural areas. Judges in Greater Minnesota, by contrast, are forced to become conversant with all aspects of the law, often without the benefit of frequent consultations with colleagues. You learn on the fly and based on what’s given to you, which of course you don’t control. By contrast, some of my judicial colleagues in the bigger counties are slotted into a particular assignment area — criminal, family, juvenile, etc. — for two- or three-year periods. Those judges become quite experienced in a certain area, but have a more limited range of general experience.
Q: Many lawsuits have already been filed with some sort of connection to the COVID-19 pandemic. Have you already begun to think about how you might view what’s transpired across the state as a result of the pandemic from a legal standpoint?
A: It's certainly something I’ve considered, but it obviously wouldn’t be appropriate for me to share anything about how I would view any particular type of case that might come to the Court.
There may well be pandemic-related legal challenges brought to the court. I indicated at the [May 15] press conference it was my hope the bodies could work together to try to find solutions here that wouldn’t necessitate the court system to sort out. The Wisconsin Supreme Court case was issued right before that press conference and the court there made a decision that’s been both praised and derided, depending on which side of the political spectrum you’re on. What’s most concerning is how politicized it all became. These are clearly public health issues, and it would be my hope that the legislative and executive branches will work together to fashion solutions based on science and medical expertise.
Q: Other than the pandemic, what other key cases and issues await you as you take your seat on the court?
A: Actually, I’m not aware at all of what cases are going to be on the calendar for arguments in September or October. I know which of my cases have been appealed there, which of course I wouldn’t be involved with, but the calendar for September and after has not yet been set. I would assume it will be the usual combination of discretionary appeals from the Court of Appeals and other cases where the Supreme Court has direct jurisdiction.
There are only certain types of cases the Supreme Court has such jurisdiction — including appeals from first-degree murder convictions, appeals from the tax court, appeals from the worker’s compensation court of appeals, attorney disciplinary cases, and certain other unique cases involving particular issues, like state-wide elections. The cases taken from the Court of Appeals arise from petitions for further review, and the Supreme Court has decided that the case meets certain criteria from the rules, particularly that the issue is an important issue that has statewide implications and should be ruled on, the constitutionality of a state law, or should be clarified or developed. I’ve learned that roughly 13% of the petitions for review are accepted. By their very definition, these are cases of importance that need to be dealt with by the court.
Q: I imagine you have met each of the other justices on the court. You’re currently one judge in a courtroom, and now you’ll be part of a team of sorts. What do you think that’s going to be like?
A: That [working with other justices] is indeed a major factor, and is a question that came up in my interviews. At this point, each of the existing justices has reached out to me and they’ve all been incredibly helpful and supportive.
We don’t do panel work on the Supreme Court — the Court of Appeals has panels of three judges, and the Supreme Court generally sits “en banc” or all together unless a justice recuses his/herself. Because all seven justices typically have a vote on each case, teamwork is critical in terms of arriving at a consensus decision, which happens about ¾ of the time. The rest of the time, dissenting and concurring opinions do occur because of differing views of the law. But the judges work together, and coming from an outstate county where you’re really by yourself most of the time will make for a change in terms of the deliberative process. I’m actually looking forward to it, because one of the things outstate trial judges don’t have is a lot of collegial support immediately within the office, and we make our decisions on our own. People are collegial, but we’re overall too busy to pick up the phone, text or email frequently. We do that occasionally, but it’s largely reserved for crises or the most important situations.
In our area, judges are largely supported by staff, and in that regard I’ve benefited and been blessed by the work of my law clerks, court administrative staff, and in particular my excellent court reporter, Kate Harmsen. Law clerks come and go about every 8-12 months, but Kate has been with me consistently from the start of my district court judicial appointment. Without these supporting people, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. They’re incredibly important, they make the judicial branch run, and I will miss them as I move to a new job with a new team at the Minnesota Judicial Center.
Q: This appointment comes at a pretty good time for you in multiple ways. Certainly with you and your wife as empty-nesters, it probably makes it easier to relocate. What kinds of memories do you take from your quarter-century in Worthington as you move on?
A: When I came to Worthington 25½ years ago, I was a relatively young lawyer. I’d gained solid experience working for the attorney general’s office for seven years, but I was fairly raw, legally speaking. My wife and I decided to come outstate and seek our fortune within a smaller community, and we were very fortunate to find our way to Worthington. It has been transformative.
Those I must credit for helping me get to a position of even being considered for an appointment like this include the people at the Malters, Shepherd & Von Holtum law office [where Moore was employed from 1995-2001], the Nobles County Attorney’s Office, and the District Court — and all the attorneys, support staff and others I’ve encountered. I owe particular thanks to the current court administrator Lori Klein, to my court reporter Kate Harmsen, and to my law clerks.
As I said at the May 15 press conference, to even be among those considered for this opening was an incredible honor. Being a finalist was beyond my wildest imagination, and it was stunning, in a good way, to hear from Governor Walz of my selection. Frankly I didn’t have an “acceptance speech” written at the time as I was not assuming I would be selected.
Leaving Worthington prompts bittersweet feelings. I start at the Supreme Court Aug. 3 and will wrap up my work with the district court at the end of July. My family and I are blessed beyond belief by the support this community has provided us. There’s no way I can adequately thank everybody who has wished me well, so I’d like to extend a general thanks to everyone who has reached out to me in whatever manner — sometimes in the grocery store or on the street, or through friends and family. I sincerely appreciate it. Your support humbles me, and I will do my best to honor your trust in me. Rest assured, we’re not going to forget our Worthington friends or this community.
As far as memories over the years, I’ve had noteworthy experiences here, ranging from serving the public in elected offices to participation in two community musicals to coaching youth sports and supporting the musical and athletic endeavors of my wife and children. One thing I remain most proud of is that I was on the election ballot in Nobles County five times [for the ISD 518 school board, as county attorney and as a district court judge]. Receiving such support from the broader community was really important. My school board experience in itself was as informative as anything, because it involves working with a group of people toward common goals while balancing diverse opinions and priorities. There’s nothing more important than the education of children.
Other good memories involve serving on the YMCA board during its capital campaign for the new facility in the mid-2000s and being on the Historic Worthington Inc. committee that, with Bruce Dayton’s generosity and foresight, purchased and restored the Historic Dayton House and put it on the National Register of Historic Places.
There have been a few missed opportunities over the years — I still wish we had done something with Central School, for example —that’s a project that got away from the community, unfortunately — and this community is very overdue for a newer and improved public library. I’m extremely proud of being involved with the group that brought the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association back to Worthington through the Worthington FC soccer program, and the results of our high school soccer teams over the last few years speak to its unifying effect.
I’ve enjoyed volunteering with the radio station for election night commentary, and involvement with my church, the local performing arts network and announcing boys’ varsity hockey games for three years have all been rewarding. I’d simply like to thank everybody who has been kind and supportive. My family and I will be forever grateful.