From the bench: Here’s how a lawyer becomes a judge
In order to become a judge in Minnesota, you must be a licensed attorney authorized to practice law in this state, and you must reside in the district in which you are appointed. We all know there is more to getting a job than meeting the basic qualifications, so how do judges actually get “hired?”
There are four types of state judges in the state of Minnesota: District Court, Court of Appeals, Supreme Court Justices and Tax Court. This article will focus on District Court judges. However, the process is very similar for each.
District Court judges sit in every courthouse in each of Minnesota’s 87 counties. These are the judges commonly referred to as trial court judges.
State District Court judges are elected by the voters of the district in non-partisan judicial elections to six-year terms. When vacancies occur before the end of a judge’s term, they are filled by appointment of the governor. Once a judge has been appointed to fill a vacancy, he or she will sit for at least one full -year before running in the next general election.
The appointment process involves a comprehensive evaluation of each candidate’s qualifications. The process begins when the Minnesota Supreme Court certifies a vacancy has occurred and notifies the governor.
The governor then provides public notice of the vacancy and a request for interested candidates to provide application materials to the Judicial Selection Commission.
The Judicial Selection Commission is a statewide group of both lawyers and non-lawyers appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court and the governor. They are responsible for receiving and screening applications, evaluating candidates and making recommendations to the governor.
After applicants have submitted their application materials, the Judicial Selection Commission reviews the applications and selects candidates for interviews.
After conducting interviews with selected applicants and conducting a due diligent inquiry of others having personal knowledge of the applicants, the Judicial Selection Commission recommends between three and five individuals for the governor to consider.
The governor may interview those individuals, or others deemed qualified by the governor. General practice is for the governor to interview those recommended by the Judicial Selection Commission.
The governor will normally interview those individuals or other candidates deemed qualified by the governor. The governor’s staff conducts a comprehensive and thorough background investigation related to potential appointees.
After making his decision, the governor announces the appointment, and a new judge is born.
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Judge Michelle Lawson is a Seventh Judicial District Court Judge and presides over courts in the city of Moorhead.