In Rare Move, Minnesota Supreme Court Removes a Judge From Office

by | October 15, 2015

By Rochelle Olson

In a decisive and uncommon rebuke, the Minnesota Supreme Court removed an Anoka County district judge from the bench Wednesday for living outside of his district and lying to voters about his residence on his affidavit of candidacy.

In its 39-page decision, the court agreed to the harshest penalty possible for Alan Pendleton -- only the fourth time it has pulled a judge from the bench.

The majority's decision said, "In order for the public to have confidence in the integrity of the judicial system, the public must believe that there is an effective system in place to ensure judges abide by our Constitution and follow their ethical obligations."

Only Justice David Stras disagreed with the action. He filed a dissent saying that Pendleton should have been censured and suspended for six months, but not removed.

The state's Board on Judicial Standards had recommended a suspension of at least eight months. The state Supreme Court heard arguments on the dispute in September and suspended Pendleton from office with pay then.

Of the court's three prior removals of judges, two of them involved criminal convictions -- Hennepin County Judges Harvey Ginsberg in 2004 and Robert Crane Winton Jr. in 1984. A third was removed in 1978 for misconduct before he took the bench. He was found to have caused legal injury to more than a dozen former clients.

The court said Pendleton's misconduct didn't involve a criminal conviction, but considering the "totality of the circumstances of this case, we hold that Judge Pendleton must be removed from office."

Kerr Karasov case cited

The court essentially said Pendleton knew better because he wasn't the first judge in recent years to face investigation for living outside his district. In 2013, the court suspended for six months now-retired Hennepin County District Judge Patricia Kerr Karasov for failing to live in her district for three months and then not cooperating with an investigation by the board.

The court's order on Pendleton noted that the earlier order expressed a "lack of tolerance for a judge's failure to comply with her constitutional obligations" and for failing to be honest with the board.

"Just two years after we gave this clear warning and despite being fully aware of our decision in Karasov, Judge Pendleton deliberately chose to reside outside of his judicial district for even longer than Karasov did," the ruling said.

The court said Pendleton's behavior is "substantially more serious" because he lived outside his district "for personal convenience" and made a knowingly false statement in his affidavit of candidacy to "conceal his residency outside the district."

Pendleton was appointed to the bench in 1999 by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura. He and his wife married in 2007 and lived separately until November 2013, when he sold his Anoka townhouse for financial reasons. But in May 2014, Pendleton filed an affidavit of candidacy listing the address of the townhouse as his official residence.

Pendleton "consciously disregarded both his constitutional obligations and our decision in Karasov," the court said. "The integrity of the judicial system is seriously undermined when a judge not only violates his or her constitutional obligations but also flouts a discipline decision of our court."

Doug Kelley, Pendleton's attorney, said Pendleton wanted it known that he was "by all indicators an exemplary judge" who was chosen by his peers as district judge of the year in 2012 and that he wrote a blog "to educate judges on how to do their jobs."

He "loved being a judge," Kelley said. "It was the biggest honor in his life. ... As of today, his life will take a different direction."

Pendleton will be replaced through the normal judicial appointment process by Gov. Mark Dayton.

(c)2015 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)