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Judge candidate has been trying to change the election system

By Staff | Sep 11, 2010

There has been one component on general election ballots which has always been a puzzle to me.

Maybe it has been something you have noticed as well.

When one goes to the polls in November, and receives his or her ballot, there is a long list of candidates to choose from.

And, I am not talking about city, county or state offices. Those are all on the ballot, of course.

But, usually on the back side, is a long list of judges to choose from.

Many people skip right over these choices. Most folks have never heard of any of them, anyway.

The judges are not exactly what I am referring to, however.

The item I have always noticed is that the current judges are the only candidates who have the word incumbent behind their name.

No one else on any ballot, is able to have that designation behind their name.

According to an attorney from Jordan, that is just one of many problems when it comes to electing judges.

Greg Wersal is running for the Minnesota State Supreme Court, against one of those candidates, Justice Helen Meyers, who was appointed to the court by Governor Jesse Ventura, eight years ago, in June of 2002.

This is not Wersal’s first attempt at becoming a justice on the State Supreme Court. He ran against a seated, incumbent judge on the Supreme Court 10 years ago, and lost.

Since that time, the lawyer has been on a mission to change some of the ‘rules’ which candidates for judge have had to follow.

For instance, it was not legal for attorneys running for a position as a judge to discuss their views on any legal or political issues.

Or, to raise campaign monies to run for the office. Or to seek endorsement from any political party – or anyone else for that matter.

Wersal has been busy in the past 10 years, since his failed attempt to get elected to the State Supreme Court.

He has filed several lawsuits and pursued them all the way to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Thanks to Wersal’s efforts, candidates for judicial positions may now discuss the issues and be endorsed by political parties.

Wersal, for instance, is endorsed by the Republican Party, the Constitution Party and the Libertarian Party. And, he freely talks about a lot of issues, most of which deal with the Supreme Court itself.

He feels the court has mandated many rules in their own favor, and that elections for judges is not a working fair process. He calls it ‘dead.’

But, he is on a personal mission to bring it back from the dead, and to get rid of what he calls unfair campaign practices. And he has succeeded.

Judicial candidates may also now solicit and accept campaign donations, thanks to his work. Although, they must do it in groups of 20 or more, and not one-on-one.

Wersal says that is because most metropolitan judges go to a large law firm and get a bunch of big donations all at once.

Now, Wersal is working on getting rid of the incumbent designation behind current seated judges names on the ballots.

In fact, a hearing on the matter is scheduled for Sept. 20 at the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. He hopes to get a decision before this coming election in November.

Wersal has also been embattled in trying to keep the public’s right to vote for judges in place. He says the judges in Minnesota are trying to pass an amendment to the State Constitution to eliminate the voting for judges, and simply have them all appointed.

He says he feels the public should have the right to vote a bad judge out of office.

And, he says, while a lot of judges do a good job, there are some who are inadequate, and a few who are downright bad.

Wersal grew up on his family’s farm in southwestern Minnesota near Redwood Falls. He graduated from St. John’s University (cum laude) in 1977 and the University of Minnesota Law School (cum laude) in 1980.

For the past 30 years he has been in private practice in both Golden Valley and Belle Plaine.

When he is not running for the Supreme Court, or filing suit in federal court, trying to get the election of judges to be similar to how any other public official is selected.

This year, besides Wersal running against Meyer, State Supreme Court Justice Alan Page is facing competition from Tim Tingestad. The other judge up for election, Christopher J. Dietzen, is unopposed.