When Minnesotans vote in the 2020 general election, they will have the opportunity to choose an associate justice for the Minnesota Supreme Court — it will be one of the races on the back of the ballot.
A sitting Associate Justice Paul Thissen was appointed in 2018 and is seeking his first re-election. He is being challenged by attorney Michelle MacDonald, a perennial justice candidate making her fourth campaign since 2014.
The only requirements for being a judge in Minnesota are basic: the individual must be 21, must be eligible to vote in this state, must not file for any other office in the same election, and must be licensed to practice law in Minnesota.
This Supreme Court justice race is among the most critical in the state. The Minnesota Supreme Court is the court of last resort on Minnesota law and the state constitution and is the final arbiter for Minnesotans on many federal cases. Yet the race is getting little attention or media coverage.
While no Minnesota Supreme Court justice has lost a judicial election since 1940, Thissen has taken an active campaign as a current justice seeking re-election. He worked as a practicing lawyer for 25 years, serving as a private attorney, a business attorney and performing significant pro bono legal work. He was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Gov. Mark Dayton from a group of prospective candidates recommended by a judicial selection committee.
Thissen was a longtime member in the Minnesota House of Representatives, including a period as Speaker of the House. And he ran as a DFLer for governor in 2010 and 2018.
MacDonald has been a lawyer since 1987 and specializes in family law. She is an advocate of restorative justice, a worthy objective. She is also a founder of a nonprofit organization seeking to help families resolve conflict, instead of going to court.
However, she has frequently been a controversial figure in recent years and a vocal critic of the judicial system. In 2016, she was the attorney representing the Lakeville mother convicted of six felonies for hiding her daughters for more than two years from their father. In 2018, MacDonald’s law license was suspended by the Minnesota Supreme Court for 60 days and her license was placed on supervised probation for two years based on a Supreme Court referee’s recommendation. The suspension was for some of her actions in the Lakeville child custody case, which included making unsubstantiated claims about a judge’s integrity and impartiality.
The Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, which is the office responsible for attorney licensing in this state, filed a petition in March seeking further sanctions against MacDonald for committing past conduct, including making “knowingly false” comments about a judge and filing a “Factually frivolous” defamation lawsuit. A Supreme Court referee decision is expected by the end of October.
A Supreme Court justice is a nonpartisan office. Thissen has demonstrated his ability to focus on the nonpartisan role of a justice and strive to make decisions based upon the law. He has worked to make the courts more accessible to all people. He has a wealth of experience — multiple decades as a lawyer, many years as a legislator and two years as a justice. A recent survey of the state bar association’s members found that 91% favored Thissen’s re-election.
Thissen is the best candidate with the experience, legal knowledge and abilities to serve Minnesota in this judicial role. He should be re-elected as a Minnesota Supreme Court justice.
This endorsement represents the opinion of Forum Communications Co. management.