Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson — on a three-day campaign swing in northern Minnesota — is emphasizing his 30-plus years in law and his 14 years on the bench as he faces re-election against a former U.S. senator.
Appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 1998 and to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2004, Anderson also served as Hutchinson city attorney for more than a decade.
He spoke with a Brainerd Dispatch reporter in Brainerd Friday afternoon.
The justice ran without opposition in 2006 but is being challenged by Dean Barkley, a former campaign manager for Jesse Ventura, who was later appointed to a short U.S. Senate term by then-Gov. Ventura. Barkley also ran for the U.S. Senate as the Independence Party candidate in 2008.
Since Barkley’s name has more statewide exposure than many judicial challengers, Anderson said he is taking the election seriously.
Anderson’s name and face may be familiar to political junkies as the host of “Your Legislators” a public affairs interview show with lawmakers which airs primarily in outstate Minnesota. Anderson, who started hosting the show when he was a Hutchinson attorney in 1989, doesn’t bill himself as a Minnesota Supreme Court justice on the show and he said it rarely comes up unless a guest makes an off-hand remark.
“I’ve had great fun doing it,” Anderson said.
The Supreme Court justice has mixed feelings about running for office, stating his own preference would be for the state to have a retention model that allows voters to reject appointed judges. The retention model has been considered by the Minnesota Legislature but has not made much progress toward becoming law. He said he’d like to see Minnesotans have a conversation about how the state selects its judges. He said he had concerns about partisan involvement and huge campaign expenditures in judicial contests.
“There is no single way to do this,” he said. “All systems have flaws.”
He said some systems offer degrees of accountability while others offer degrees of judicial independence. Anderson said he hopes people appearing before a judge never feel they don’t have a chance because they perceive that judge to be a Republican or Democrat or believe that judge is a captive to business, labor or environmental interests.
“That’s the risk you run with full partisan involvement,” Anderson said.
Although judicial candidates are no longer banned by law from expressing their opinions on controversial matters of public policy, Anderson chooses not to comment on those matters for fear that those appearing before him will feel he’s not fully impartial.
In addition to his duties on the bench, Anderson said he’s involved in an initiative to move the state’s legal system toward electronic filing. He also serves on the Judicial Council, the statewide governing board for the judicial branch.
He said he enjoys hearing the state’s best lawyers try the toughest cases and then meeting with his colleagues and beginning the intellectual task of figuring out how to decide the case.
One of the most difficult aspects of his job, he said, was serving as the only appellate court for first-degree murder cases.
“Those cases can be very difficult,” he said, both factually and emotionally.
He had high praise both for both attorneys and district court judges who serve in the judicial branch.
“The really heavy lifting is done by the 288 district court judges,” Anderson said. “I think our judiciary is absolutely top-drawer.”
The jurist said he wanted to be an attorney ever since he was a student at Franklin Junior High School in Mankato and he’s just as proud that he was an attorney as he is of serving on the state Supreme Court. While he said he enjoys a good lawyer joke, Anderson maintained that where there are people who make a difference in a community, you’re going to find lawyers.
“I think we’re a force for good in the system,” he said.
One pet peeve he admitted to was when voters say they could never vote for an attorney/candidate because that person represented an unpopular person or entity. There is a rightful expectation that lawyers will defend unpopular clients, Anderson said.
“They’re doing their job,” he said.