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Minnesota Supreme Court justice visits Worthington

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Lorie Gildea, up for re-election in the upcoming vote, visited Worthington Tuesday to chat with a few folks about how the court system works and where it needs work.

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Lorie Gildea, up for re-election in the upcoming vote, visited Worthington Tuesday to chat with a few folks about how the court system works and where it needs work.

Gildea sat down at WGTN TV 3 with Nobles County Attorney Gordon Moore and "Southwest Magazine" host Darrell Stitt to talk about her credentials and how judges turn into justices. The program will be aired on TV 3 at 6 a.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Tuesday and 8 a.m. Oct. 9.

Gildea grew up in Plummer, which is near Thief River Falls, and attended the University of Minnesota-Morris. She attended law school and spent 20 years in practice. When she was appointed to the bench in September 2005, she had been prosecuting cases for Hennepin County. She was appointed an Associate Justice in January 2006 when a vacancy occurred. Judges are elected in Minnesota, but most of them gain the position originally by appointment, Gildea said.

Her most recent claim to fame was being part of the statewide recount after the primaries, something that has not happened in Minnesota for more than 45 years. There were four candidates for the position, with Gildea earning the most votes, but the second- and third-place candidates were separated by less then half a percentage point.

Shortly before the primaries, candidate Jill Clark's attempt to have the "incumbent" label next to Gildea's name removed from the ballot was denied by the courts. Clark told the courts governor's appointments have an unfair advantage by being designated an incumbent, but the courts ruled in Gildea's favor, as they have ruled other times the same argument has come up in years' past.

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The recount verified that Gildea would run against Judge Deborah Hedlund, who was appointed to municipal court in 1980 and became a district court judge in Hennepin County by court merger in 1986.

Deciding which judges to vote for can be tricky because they are not allowed to get political party endorsements or hit the campaign trail the same way politicians do, Gildea explained.

"It is to preserve the impartiality of that judge," she stated. "We have to keep politics out of the judicial system in Minnesota."

Some states, she added, do allow judges to campaign and become party affiliated; other states have judges appointed by the Supreme Courts; and others use what is known as retention or merit election, something recommended by the Quie Commission in Minnesota.

In a retention election, an appointed judge would be on the ballot every set number of years, but instead of running against an opponent, the people would vote whether or not to keep that judge in his or her seat.

"I don't think we should have judges running as politicians," Gildea admitted.

The best way to decide which judge to vote for is to speak to attorneys and research the candidates. Gildea has her own Web site at www.loriegildea.com , but other sites such as the Minnesota Lawyer voter's guide can help.

To be a judge, Gildea said, a person needs to be able to write logical, clear and readable opinions, because those written opinions from the Supreme Court affect case law. A goal of the court system, she explained, was to educate the public about what the court system does and what challenges it is facing.

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"The court system is facing a budgetary shortfall of $19 million," Gildea stated, adding that 10 percent of the jobs that need filling are being left open. "We need to engage a broader constituency to help us get the funding we need."

In anticipation of having to visit areas in Minnesota, Gildea said she saved vacation days and is using them now to travel around the state. She has visited with everyone from community organizations to high school students.

"I think civic education has suffered a lot in middle and high schools," the justice stated.

She described the job of a judge as listening to both sides, deciding who to believe and applying the laws. She and her colleagues on the Supreme Court work well together, she said, which is critical.

"We have great disagreements," she admitted. "But we work really hard at disagreeing without being disagreeable."

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