*We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd, 2020 elections. We recently talked with Judge Charles D. Halverson from the Ninth Judicial District who is running for reelection.
His opponent Ben Lindstrom has been contacted and scheduled for an interview as well.
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*KAXE/KBXE News and Public Affairs Director Heidi Holtan recently spoke with Judge Halverson. The following transcript has been edited for clarity. The audio of this interview is available at the top of this page.
(Heidi) Q: Give us an idea of your background that led you to becoming a judge.
(Judge Halverson) A: How far back do you want to go?
Q: Did you know, as a child, you wanted to be a judge for instance?
A: No, I think that happened later in life. I did kind of know early on that I wanted to be a lawyer. And so that was kind of in my forethought ending as a judge, I don't think happened until much later in life. And I was encouraged to consider it by people who thought that I would do a good job at it and had the experience to do it. But I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to do it because I knew there would be some aspects of my private practice that I would lose and give up. And that mostly was the relationship with my clients, but I made the decision that I would serve.
Q: So for voters, I think hearing that a judge is first appointed by a governor and then runs for election later isn’t clear. Could you kind of explain what that whole process is like?
A: Well, I would describe as kind of a vetting process, they post an opening. And when I applied this time, there was three openings, two and Crow Wing and one in Cass County. I was encouraged to apply by the former member of the judicial selection committee. So I submitted my application.
You have to detail all of your experience your work in the community or other community involvement, volunteer, work, other projects that you're involved in, you have to give a list of attorneys who were on important cases in an adversarial position. You have to give judges that you appeared in front of them and not necessarily on a frequent basis where you may have a better relationship with them. That goes into the judicial selection committee, which is made up of people all over the state for review. And then they narrow that down to a group of candidates that they would like to interview.
And then you go through that interview process on a local basis. And then out of that local basis, they select finalists that are ultimately interviewed by the Governor and all of the finalists. The Governor's not bound by that group, but generally the Governor will pick who they think is going to be the best candidate as a group. So you signed releases, they do background checks, they made sure you paid your taxes. They know everything about you, that they can know most of which voters wouldn't even have access.
Q: So part of being a judge are it's a nonpartisan position. So you can't publicly endorse any candidates say in the upcoming elections in November. Is that something difficult to give up or why do you think that's important to being a judge?
A: Well, I think it's important because of impartiality, especially now - there seems to be the differences where people have become far more polarized. It's black and white. It used to be very gray. You would know where, which party anybody was for and traditionally in Minnesota, there's a lot of people that flip flopped and voted on both sides of the party. And as an attorney, I didn't necessarily want to affiliate strongly one way or the other either. I didn't want people deciding whether they're going to hire me or not hire me because of strong positions. So for me, that transition was relatively easy.
Q: We are talking with Judge Charles Halverson today. He is up for election in November, in Minnesota, In the ninth district treatment courts have a lot to do with the work you do. Can you tell us what they are?
A: Yes treatment courts. We have really two kinds. Sometimes they're strictly for offenses that are DUI. Others are strictly drug offenses. Some are kind of a combination. Depends on numbers. Depends on how large the County is. It's a program that started out it's probably about 10 years ago. So you identified people who are at risk to potentially re-offend or can identify that they have a significant chemical dependency problem. It's kind of a combination of intensive supervision.
So you're going to have contact with a supervising probation agent at least weekly, if not more than one time a week, there's like a group type situation. You meet with other people. The group will can impose sanctions. If there's a violation of the rules, you're going to get support out of that group. You're going to get guidance inside of that group. And in theory, if everyone in the group is successful, you're actually going to develop a peer group of people who are also made the choice to find sobriety.
So you're not alone. And that combination package is different from what we were doing. Traditionally, people would commit an offense, get convicted or plead guilty, be placed on probation. They had to develop their own relationship with the probation agent. They had to figure out their own situation about do I go to treatment or not go to treatment? They had to be on their own to that sort that out. And when we put people in those situations, more people fail because they're doing it on their own. And one of the things that you're going to hear from people involved in treatment is for people to break down this barrier, that if you want make positive change in your life, you have to rely on other people. And when we force people to figure it out on their own, and then we're upset or surprised when they failed, we shouldn't have been.
And that's the key component to the sobriety court is you're not alone. You have other people that are in similar situations to you, other people whose enabling group, maybe within their own family circle, which makes it difficult. You have other people who have faced some of the same bumps in the road of drugs and alcohol disruption in their life. So they understand when you talk about it because they've been down that same road and then you have people in the support part of the treatment group that can help guide and get people where they want to go and support them and getting them there as opposed to letting them just figure out on their own. So it’s a way better concept. You support public safety cause you have intensive supervision, you support the person individually so you can help get them to where they want to be.
And they're not going to have to do it alone. So it's fantastic program. I first had clients start going there, that attorney, and then I started doing some volunteer work in the program. So I've had contacts with wellness programs in multiple counties. They're all a little bit different based on their makeup, but the goal and the structure is somewhat the same. And I've had some clients who have taken that route and had now years of sobriety, they found success in that model where they weren't able to find success in another - a higher percentage of people. Dealing with chemical dependency is never been a perfect historically anyway, because we're dealing with the human condition. But when we support people we increase the numbers of success. And it's hard to argue when it works.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how you are approaching reelection. This is the first time you've been up for elections. Running for judge is very different than what we might think of someone running for the state legislature. So how are you doing it?
A: Well, it's in some ways the same. How you campaign is different. We can't take strong positions about issues. We can to a degree talk about our experience and what qualifies us, but you just really don't get into what a lot most people think they want to hear from anybody running for office.
People want to know if you a conservative or liberal, or how you feel about that. Because as judges, we don't know what's going to come on our plate in the future for cases. And the last thing you'd want to do is make some sort of statement to try to make somebody else happy. And then it impacts your ability to handle a case in the future. And that's one of the reasons why you can't make strong statements or talk issues.
Part of the purpose of the bench in our constitutional system is to maintain neutrality. It's supports the concept of fairness. And when you look at it, that makes perfect sense. It's just makes campaigning a little bit of walking a tightrope because people want to know where you stand and they get a little frustrated when he really can't tell them.
Q: So tell us a little bit about what it's been like as a judge during this pandemic. How have you kept your, your staff in the courtroom safe and the people who come before you?
A: Well, it's been evolving, it's been changing. Most of it is by video. So we started out using one kind of video method called VMR. I personally didn't like it. We switched to zoom. Court used to be scheduled where you'd have 9 o’clock and it was a cattle call. Clients especially criminal - they'd all show up at nine and then sit there until you got done with the people that all showed up.
Well, now we have to go with individual time slots. So you'll have a nine and maybe a nine, 10, nine, 20, or if they're in 15 minute increments.
And so I think we're processing less cases, but most of the time my staff is remote. They could be in or be in their office or they could be at home. I generally go in the courtroom.
I started out doing it at home, but when you have the camera and it starts picking up some of the background stuff in your house people would start asking you questions about things in the background, in your house, and it's kind of your personal space. And I wasn't completely comfortable with that. So at least when I'm in the courtroom and the cameras on me, I'm there in a robe that looks like I'm on a bench. It looks like I'm in a courtroom. It projects a more professional and the lack of better term, legitimate perception. And then I generally will have one support staff in the courtroom and everyone else remotely, and people appear by zoom and we conduct court and we go on.
It's just different. It takes longer. But it's the only thing we have because I don't know how comfortable anybody would want to be having 20 people show up in person for a court appearance during a pandemic.
Q: You described that the way that you look on zoom and having, you know, so that you appear like a judge and not in your personal life. For a lot of people, if we end up going to court for something that's a pretty stressful time. So someone listening to us right now, do you have advice for, for that whole process and how, how to go about it?
A: Both attorneys and clients are treating it far more casually that they probably would have thought they were going into a courtroom. There have been people who have been drinking, smoking, not always clothed 100%, some have the dog sitting on their lap… in some ways it's more relaxed, which I think helps people puts them more at ease. But at the same time, some people just take it too casually. I mean, there's pros and cons there, but the bottom line is it's about trying to give people an opportunity to have their case in court. And it's the best mechanism we have at this time. And people aren't completely buying into the proper way that they should be dressed or anything else it's about getting the work done. It's the most important thing at some point.
Hopefully when we go back to being in courtroom, some of that casualness doesn't spill over the one upside. I think for litigants, when we are scheduling things in the time slots that they are, I have a lot of people who are taking their breaks from work and doing their court appearance where the old methods they would have had to take a whole morning off and now they can, they don't move that half a day, a paycheck. They can fit it into their break and not miss that half a day of their paycheck sometimes a whole day, if you have to travel for court.
So a lot of people are zooming in from worksite and if they're dressed in their work clothes and they're at work, I don't have an issue with that. And they're earning more money, which is in everybody's best interest.
*please credit KAXE/KBXE - independent public media in northern MN when using excerpts of this interview. Responses to our Meet the Candidates interviews can be left at 218-999-9876 or by email.