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Supreme Court chief’s departure gives Pawlenty a majority

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Associated Press Writer

ST. PAUL (AP) — Minnesota’s highest court will get a new chief justice, giving Gov. Tim Pawlenty a fourth pick to the seven-member Supreme Court.

The current chief, Russell Anderson, announced Monday he would step down in June because of his age and concerns about his wife’s health. Now 65, Anderson has been on the Supreme Court since 1998. He was elevated to the top position two years ago by Pawlenty, a Republican.

"I’ve been at this for a good long time. All of the decisions with regard to retirement are obviously personal. I just feel it is an appropriate time for me to retire," Anderson said in an interview.

Anderson was serving as Beltrami County attorney in 1982 when he was appointed a district judge by Gov. Al Quie. He was tapped for the Supreme Court by Gov. Arne Carlson.

Anderson said he is proud of his work helping restructure the state’s trial and appellate courts into a single branch of Minnesota government run by a newly created Minnesota Judicial Council.

Anderson said he has no plans to enter private practice, as other former justices have done.

"I’ve been a judge for a long time and I respect the robe and I’m going to continue in my status as a judge, retired however," he said.


Pawlenty called Anderson "an extraordinary leader and public servant." Praise came from Democrats as well. Rep. Bernie Lieder of Crookston, who periodically had lunch with the former Crookston judge, said he was "well-respected by practically everybody."

The departure means Pawlenty will have named a majority of justices over his five years in office.

Pawlenty previously named G. Barry Anderson, Lorie Gildea and Christopher Dietzen to the Supreme Court.

Dietzen was selected in November for the most recent high court vacancy. Pawlenty has used a more insular selection process for the Supreme Court than he has for lower court appointments.

"We’ve been through several Appeals Court and Supreme Court appointments recently, so we’re familiar with the talent pool," Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said. "The governor will make his decision based on that and other information."

In Minnesota, judges don’t require legislative confirmation. But they periodically stand for election while seldom facing stiff challenges. Justices serve six-year terms, but they are also subject to a retirement age of 70. Associate justices are paid $141,729 annually, the chief justice $155,902.

No justice will reach mandatory retirement before Pawlenty’s term expires in 2010.

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