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Judiciary to Pawlenty: No vacancies

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- The commission that nominates candidates for Gov. Tim Pawlenty to appoint to Minnesota's judiciary hasn't done much work lately.

Except for one appointment to the Minnesota Tax Court, which wasn't in the purview of the Judicial Selection Commission, Pawlenty hasn't had a vacancy to fill among the state's 303 judgeships in his six months in office.

What's more, the next mandatory retirement date for a state district or appellate judge doesn't come up until October 2004. And only four others are scheduled for retirement during Pawlenty's entire four-year term.

Resignations, disability or death may create a few more opportunities for the Republican governor to put his mark on the judiciary.

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"I'm not complaining; I've got other things to do," said Eric Magnuson, who heads the commission, directs appellate work from his law firm in Minneapolis and is president of the Eighth Circuit Bar Association. Magnuson hasn't even called a meeting of the 49-member commission.

The slowdown follows a four-year period when former Gov. Jesse Ventura named 72 new judges. Before him, Gov. Arne Carlson selected 119 in eight years in office.

Ventura and Carlson governed in a boom era when the state added about 40 new judgeships. Pawlenty is presiding over a period when the judiciary is taking a 3 percent budget cut over the next two years.

Under the Minnesota Constitution, judges are elected to six-year terms. But most of them are appointed by governors to fill out unexpired terms, then run for election years later with "incumbent" designations beside their names on the ballot. Pay for the highly sought-after positions ranges from $122,186 a year for a district judge to $142,641 for the chief justice.

Dakota District Judge Thomas Murphy will be the next judge to reach the retirement age of 70, in October 2004. Two Court of Appeals judges also face mandatory retirement during Pawlenty's term -- James Harten in March 2005 and Robert Schumacher in January 2006.

Other scheduled retirements are District Judge Gary Meyer in October 2005 and District Judge Warren Litynski in July 2006.

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