Minnesota chief justice to retire

ST. PAUL -- Russell Anderson began his tenure as Minnesota's chief justice warning that politics was about to become intertwined with the judicial system.

ST. PAUL -- Russell Anderson began his tenure as Minnesota's chief justice warning that politics was about to become intertwined with the judicial system.

The same concerns remained Monday, when he announced he will retire after a quarter century in the courts, for 16 years serving northwestern Minnesota as a district court judge.

In an interview, the Bemidji native said health problems his wife, Kristin, faces drove his decision.

"My wife's health concerns are a priority here," he said, not going into detail.

But he also cited his age --he turns 66 in May -- as a reason to step down.


"We just want to be able to enjoy some time," Anderson said.

His retirement takes effect June 1. That gives Gov. Tim Pawlenty a chance to appoint his fourth Supreme Court justice.

Anderson said he has "always tried to be a fair an impartial jurist," but fears the future in light of judge candidates coming from the political ranks.

"My biggest frustration is politicizing the judiciary," Anderson said. "Judicial candidates should not be out there making promises to people about how they are going to decide cases ahead of time."

Anderson said he supports recommendations by a commission former Gov. Al Quie headed that suggest a constitutional amendment allowing the governor to appoint judges, then giving the public a chance to oust them in regular elections.

The current system allows the public to elect judges, which Anderson said could lead to people with political agendas being elected.

Minnesota Bar Association President Brian Melendez said he agrees with Anderson, but added that Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has done a good job of appointing judges without political aspirations. It was a rare Melendez compliment for Pawlenty; Melendez also is Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chairman, and as such often attacks Pawlenty.

"There are so many great leaders who are on the bench right now, that I would think the governor has an embarrassment of riches to chose from here," the bar leader said. Melendez said Anderson has been "a tremendous leader for the court" and improved communications between his lawyers' group and the court.


"He has taken the relationship between the bench and the bar to the next level," Melendez said.

Pawlenty called Anderson "an extraordinary leader and public servant."

Anderson said the time is right to leave the bench.

"This is a very high-pressure, 24-7 job," he said.

Anderson said he hopes to be remembered for treating people who appeared before him with fairness.

"It is important that each case be treated as an individual matter to be fair to the litigants involved," he said.

One of his accomplishments was helping lead the court system away from a combination state and county funding into an all state-funded system. While that has gone well, Anderson said, his last few months heading the state courts will include lobbying legislators to increase funding.

The courts have left open 207 positions statewide to save money and could lay off 202 people if budget talks do not go well, the chief justice said. That would delay trials and other court action.


"Justice delayed is justice denied," he said.

Anderson was raised in Bemidji. He worked in private practice and served as Beltrami County attorney until being named judge in 1982.

He served as a judge based in Crookston from 1982 to 1998, when Gov. Arne Carlson named him to the high court. Pawlenty appointed Anderson chief justice two years ago.

The Andersons have not decided if they will continue to live in the Twin Cities or return home to northern Minnesota.

"I always consider myself to be a guy from northern Minnesota," Anderson said. "I hear people talking about moving south; I can tell you Minneapolis-St. Paul is as far enough south for me."

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

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