Panel says judge should be removedThe Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards has recommended that Dakota County Judge Timothy Blakely be removed from office. The board’s recommendation was announced Monday, May 11.
By: Jane Lightbourn, RiverTown Newspaper Group, The Farmington Independent
The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards has recommended that Dakota County Judge Timothy Blakely be removed from office. The board’s recommendation was announced Monday, May 11.
The board ruled Blakely acted inappropriately when he offered to refer pre-trial mediations over which he presided to his divorce attorney in exchange for a reduction of his fee. Those mediations took place in both Dakota and Scott counties.
The board considered recommendations submitted April 17 the fact-finding panel of Edward Stringer, retired Supreme Court justice, and Lawrence Redmond and Allen Oleisky, retired District Court judges. They were appointed last fall to make recommendations about Blakely’s behavior during his divorce proceedings, which began in 2002.
In its recommendation this week, the board noted several considerations that were not present during the initial examination of the case. These included an acknowledgment by Blakely during the hearing that he used his position to obtain a fee reduction on his personal bill.
“I had the right and the duty for my family to have this bill dealt with the only way I knew how and the only thing I had,” Blakely testified.
Further, the board noted Blakely changed his position from that initially taken with the board. During the board’s investigation, Blakely acknowledged his mention of “business referrals” in the context of fee negotiations raised the the issue of the appearance of impropriety. But during the hearing, Blakely denied his choice of words would raise a reasonable inference of impropriety to any “fully informed person.”
The panel called Blakely’s testimony “hardly credible in light of the prior acknowledgment.”
At the hearing, Blakely argued judges can make personal referrals for friends or businesses acquaintances even in cases where such an action directly advances the judge’s private interest. The board disagreed.
According to documents filed with the Judicial Board of Review, by the end of 2003, Blakely was behind on payments to his divorce attorney, Christine Stroemer.
Prior to his divorce, Blakely had not appointed Stroemer to mediate any of the divorce actions over which he presided. Shortly after the settlement was reached, Blakely referred to Stroemer mediation sessions in at least 10 divorce actions.
In October 2005, Blakely asked Stroemer to “consider a compromise lump sum payment of fees rather than long-term monthly payments that we can barely make.”
In the memo to Stroemer, Blakely acknowledged he was seeking a large discount, but justified it based on past and future business referrals. He asked if she would accept all the proceeds from the sale of his home “and forgo any more fees.”
In April 2006, Blakely paid his attorney more than $31,000 from the sale of his home. At that time he owed the law firm about $94,000. The firm wrote off the remaining amount.
In another message to Blakely, Stroemer wrote, “I had to do a lot of explaining to my partners as to the reasoning for writing off over $60,000 in your legal fees.... I do hope that you continue to recognize my legal abilities and continued to refer mediation cases to me.”
In the spring of 2006, Blakely referred nine more cases to Stroemer for mediation or related services.
In April 2007, Blakely’s former wife filed a complaint with the Judicial Board of Review accusing her former husband of judicial misconduct. She alleged Blakely was given “special financial arrangements” by his personal attorney.
Judge Blakely responded to the complaint by indicating he had experienced a tremendous financial hardship, leaving him unable to fully pay his attorney’s bill. His initial response contained no mention of any business referrals to the law firm.
Stroemer provided copies of e-mail messages and other correspondence with Blakely regarding his bill.
The Minnesota Supreme Court will make the final determination on the recommendation.