Judgment Call

A former judge accuses retiring Supreme Court Chief Justice Russell Anderson of playing politics

In April, the judges of the Ninth Judicial District held their quarterly meeting. During the gathering, they passed a unanimous resolution supporting Holter's application to serve as a retired judge.

Despite this show of support, Holter got word in June that Anderson wasn't going to accept his application.

Bewildered by the decision, Holter lobbied various local officials to write to Anderson on his behalf. Among those who offered support: the Beltrami County attorney, the chief public defender for the Ninth Judicial District, a local representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, a Beltrami county commissioner, and several prominent local attorneys.

"Judge Holter is a highly respected Judge in the Beltrami County area," wrote Sheriff Phil Hodapp. "Judge Holter is highly thought of by the law enforcement professionals who have worked with him over the past couple of decades."

Anderson's response to each supporter was brief and free of sentiment. "It has been the policy of former Chief Justices to not appoint district court judges, defeated for re-election, to serve as retired judges," he wrote. "It is a policy I will continue."

Finally, in September, Holter received a phone call from the chief justice. During the five-minute discussion, Anderson acknowledged that Holter had considerable support, but refused to back down from the decision, citing the potential for a public backlash if Holter was permitted to serve on the bench after being rejected at the polls.

The phone conversation was civil, but the way events played out continued to gnaw at Holter. Unable to put the matter out of his mind, Holter wrote to Anderson directly. He laid out their numerous personal connections, from time spent as judicial colleagues to the intimate role Anderson's daughter played in Holter's campaign. Holter's main point was that the chief justice should recuse himself from the decision.

"I have reason to believe that your decision was based, at least in part, on a personal animus toward me," Holter wrote. "However, even if that was not the case, you couldn't possibly have been neutral to me."

The response from Anderson was silence. To this day, he refuses to sign off on Holter. In a statement to City Pages, Anderson reaffirmed his stance that judges who lose elections should not be allowed to serve as retired jurists. Holter is uncertain whether the decision will be open to reconsideration after Anderson steps down in June.

In the meantime, Holter is trying to enjoy retirement. He spends his days reading, meeting friends for coffee, golfing, and supporting Bemidji State University sports teams. But the whole strange series of events continues to eat at him.

"It just angers me the way the whole thing played out," he says. "I just can't rest easy."

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