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Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau, Published July 13 2010

Gildea sworn in as Minnesota chief justice

ST. PAUL – Lorie Skjerven Gildea was sworn in Monday as the Minnesota Supreme Court’s 22nd chief justice during a ceremony in St. Paul’s historic Landmark Center. Gildea took the oath to be chief justice from Justice Alan Page in front of about 600 people, mostly judges, lawyers and state officials.

Also, David Stras of suburban Wayzata took the oath to become a high court justice replacing Gildea.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who gave Stras the oath, took the spotlight in a post-ceremony reception.

Stras was law clerk for Thomas years ago, and the U.S. justice rearranged his schedule to take part in Monday’s event.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Stras, 35, and Gildea, 48, two months ago. Both promise to seek re-election when their terms expire.

Pawlenty said Gildea will be “a justice of historic stature and ability.”

Gildea, a Plummer native, credited her success on her small-town upbringing.

“When you grow up in a very small town, you learn that everyone works together or nothing gets done,” she said.

Like former Minnesota Chief Justice Russell Anderson four years ago, Gildea was critical of those who want judges to make decisions based on partisan politics.

“We don’t want rulings based on campaign contributions,” she said.

She also said the judiciary faces a financial challenge.

“In the middle of challenge lies opportunity,” she said, giving no details about how she would deal with judicial issues as the person in charge of Minnesota courts, but said the system “must be adequately funded” to preserve democracy and protect public safety.

Stras, introduced as an unusually conservative law professor at the University of Minnesota, called his new job “a limited one.”

Some Democrats have criticized Pawlenty for appointing Gildea and Stras.

Gildea wrote a dissenting opinion earlier this year when the Supreme Court decided Pawlenty illegally cut spending last summer. Stras wrote a legal brief on Pawlenty’s behalf in the case.

Gildea has served on the state’s high court since January 2006 and replaces Eric Magnuson, who announced in March that he would leave the court for personal reasons.

She has been a University of Minnesota lawyer, assistant Hennepin County attorney, lawyer in Washington and an editor of the American Criminal Law Review.

Stras has been on the University of Minnesota Law School faculty since 2004 and was a lawyer at Faegre & Benson in the Twin Cities.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.