In the fall of 1987, Judge Kenneth Bull announced he would retire by the end of the year. When a sitting judge retires, the Constitution of Minnesota provides that the Governor makes an appointment to that bench and the appointee serves until the next general election more than one year after the appointment. Rudy Perpich was Governor at the time. Even though I would have preferred to have had a few more years as a practicing attorney, I knew that it might be another 20 years before such an opportunity would come up again, so I submitted my application.
In 1987, in order to be considered for judicial appointment or election, one first had to be a licensed attorney living in the district to be served. Having met those minimum qualifications, I filled out the application forms and asked for (and received) many letters of recommendation.
The process then was similar to the one now required by statute: The applications were submitted to the Governor’s office and then forwarded to a statewide screening panel. From the applications received, the panel would forward three to five well-qualified attorneys’ names to the Governor, who then appointed one of them to the bench.
Unlike the current process, the panel in 1987 rarely interviewed candidates. I was named one of three candidates chosen as a finalist for the Sibley County District Court bench.
Those three names were submitted to the Minnesota Revenue Department (to be sure there were no outstanding tax issues), the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (to check on past or pending criminal matters) and to the Lawyers Board of Professional Responsibility (to see if there were any past or pending ethics violations claims against the candidate). The three finalists’ names, as well as the results of the background checks were then to be submitted to Governor Perpich’s office for decision. The Governor sometimes conducted interviews of the finalists and sometimes simply chose one of them as his judicial appointment.
The background investigation took several weeks, during which of course my family and I (as well as my law partner, Dave Schauer) were on pins and needles. We were most anxious to know, one way or the other, what the Governor’s decision would be, so we could plan for the next stage of our lives.
Next week, I’ll write about how I was contacted by the Governor’s office and found out I would be named judge.