Gilbert focuses on justice

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 30, 2000

Justice Jim Gilbert winces when a person asks if he’s "the one with the cows.

Monday, October 30, 2000

Justice Jim Gilbert winces when a person asks if he’s "the one with the cows." It’s his opponent, Greg Wersal, whose campaign centers around the theme that Supreme Court elections are a load of "bull."

Email newsletter signup

Gilbert, who was appointed by Governor Arne Carlson in January of 1998, says he takes the race for Minnesota Supreme Court a little more seriously.

"This is not a job of gimmicks and cardboard cows," Gilbert said in a visit to Austin early last week. "It’s about justice."

Nor, he adds, should the race for Supreme Court be a partisan one. His opponent has been endorsed by the Republican party – the first time a Supreme Court candidate has accepted a party endorsement in Minnesota since 1912.

"When Supreme Court races have partisan party endorsements, it becomes a special interests game," Gilbert said. "I would never accept a political party endorsement. Judges are to listen to both sides of a case and interpret and apply the law. They should not bring partisan considerations into the courtroom – it goes against our system of justice."

Gilbert, on the other hand, has been endorsed by individuals – former Vice President Walter Mondale, U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz, every living former Minnesota governor and the man he replaced, Chief Justice Sandy Keith. Billboards stress that his candidacy is not linked to any particular party or issue. Bearing portraits of each of the three gubernatorial candidates two years ago – Jesse Ventura, Skip Humphrey and Norm Coleman – the advertisements read: "Here’s one thing we can agree on … Keep Justice Jim Gilbert on the Minnesota Supreme Court."

When asked why a voter should choose Gilbert, he stresses the qualifications that led to his appointment in the first place: he has had 25 years in private practice; he is a certified civil trial specialist, a qualification that can only be attained after years of experience and subsequent testing. He was managing partner and CEO of his law firm for 10 years, experience he says is valuable on the Supreme Court because there are a lot of management issues with the court system.

When he was appointed, Gilbert said, part of the reason he was chosen was because of his private sector experience. He is a balance to the others on the Supreme Court, many of whom found their way there via the public sector. He is the only justice without any prior government experience. He rattles off the names and backgrounds of the other judges – among them Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, who spent 16 years in the state legislature and then was a trial court judge; Alan Page, who was first a football player, in private practice four years and assistant Attorney General for 10 years; Russell Anderson, a trail court judge for 16 years and a county attorney before that.

"You can see the practice diversity there," he says. "We really need that because the cases that we hear are so complex and so diverse."

In closing, Gilbert asks voters to think about who is most qualified to serve on the highest court in the state, and to ask themselves if they would hire a particular candidate to represent them.

"I represented common folk for 25 years on different matters," he said, "I know what goes on in a courtroom."