Selection process finds three candidates to be Benshoof's successor

Beltrami County Courthouse File Art (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
(Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- After more than two decades serving in Minnesota's Ninth Judicial District, Judge Paul Benshoof is preparing to retire from his position in Bemidji.

With his retirement on July 10 nearing, work is being done to select a successor for Benshoof, who will be chambered at the Beltrami County Courthouse.

The task is being handled by the Commission on Judicial Selection, which has recommended three candidates from eight applicants to fill the upcoming vacancy. The person selected will be a judge for a district that includes 17 counties across northwest Minnesota.

The Ninth Judicial District includes Aitkin, Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, Kittson, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake and Roseau Counties. It's one of 10 judicial districts in Minnesota.

According to staff from Gov. Tim Walz's office, the commission takes factors such as county demographics into consideration for the appointment. In the past, Walz has said he respects and welcomes the commission's recommendation, but he is not bound to them.


The appointee Walz does select will be required by the state's constitution to run for a six-year term in the next general election occurring more than a year after they fill the vacancy. For the appointee, this would be the election in November 2022.

The three candidates recommended for selection are Assistant Cass County Attorney Jeanine Brand, private criminal defense and personal injury attorney Tom Kuesel and Assistant Polk County Attorney Clifford Wardlaw.

In her role, Brand primarily handles prosecution of sexual assault, domestic assault, child endangerment and protection order violations. She's previously worked as the Clearwater County Attorney, Assistant Clearwater County Attorney, Assistant Bemidji City Attorney and Assistant Clay County Attorney.

Brand is also a member of committees working to address justice in the legal system and develop protocols with partnering service programs, tribal entities and government agencies.

Kuesel owns a law firm in northern Minnesota and is certified as a criminal law specialist by the Minnesota State Bar Association. He's previously served as part time assistant public defender in the Ninth Judicial District and law clerk in the Eighth Judicial District.

Kuesel is also on the board of the Northwest Indian Community Development Center.

In Polk County, Wardlaw handles criminal prosecution of narcotics, domestic violence, child abuse and criminal sexual conduct offenses. He's previously worked as Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota.

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