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By Andrew Tellijohn, State Capitol Bureau, Published March 12 2010

Minnesota chief justice to step down in June

ST. PAUL – Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, who helped oversee a U.S. Senate recount and argued against massive budget cuts, will leave office June 30 after two years on Minnesota’s highest court.

His Thursday announcement came just days before the Minnesota Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case challenging Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s authority to unilaterally cut the state budget.

Magnuson was unavailable for comment, but in a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who appointed him in March 2008, he cited personal reasons for stepping down.

“It has been my privilege to serve as chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court for the past two years,” Magnuson wrote. “I have found the position to be both challenging and rewarding. However, for reasons personal to me and my family, I have decided to step down and return to private practice.”

Pawlenty thanked Magnuson for his service.

“Leading Minnesota’s judicial system and heading our highest court is an extremely important and tough job,” Pawlenty said in a statement. “Chief Justice Magnuson has served in this role over the past two years with great diligence, thoughtfulness and fairness.”

The chief justice leads the Supreme Court and, in essence, runs the state’s judiciary.

Magnuson and Pawlenty worked together as partners at now defunct Rider Bennett. He was Pawlenty’s fourth selection to the Supreme Court. But during his tenure, Magnuson disagreed with Pawlenty over proposed cuts to the judicial budget.

“He’s done that in a very neutral, professional manner even though it had some potential cost for him,” said Eric Janus, dean of the William Mitchell College of Law where Magnuson received his degree. “That really showed he is a person of extremely high integrity and principle.”

Former Chief Justice A.M. “Sandy” Keith, who held the position from 1990 to 1998, indicated the work takes a toll.

“It takes a lot of time,” Keith said of the position. “You have to travel throughout the state. There is a ton of reading. ... I hardly saw my wife.”

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie got to know Magnuson during the U.S. Senate recount following the 2008 election. He credited Magnuson for his integrity and for the humor with which he approached the recount, noting especially Magnuson’s amusement at write-in votes for imaginary candidates such as “Lizard People.”


Tellijohn reports for Forum Communications Co.