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Hennepin County Judge has tough fight ahead

The chief judge of Hennepin County District Court James Swenson is fighting tough campaigns on two parts, the Star Tribune reported.

He is in a tight reelection campaign with Tom Haeg, former family court referee for the county. Haeg decided to run after his job was eliminated in July because of budget cuts.

Swenson said he was on vacation when Haeg was laid off and that former Chief Judge Lucy Wieland made the choice. Haeg resigned and said he would pursue a campaign to expose Wieland and Swenson's tactics, rather than take a new job at identical pay. Swenson was assistant chief until last summer when he succeeded Wieland, who is now in juvenile court.

The chief, who is trying to hold on to the seat he has held for 13 years, said he has never seen such vicious attacks in a county judicial race. Haeg said he wanted to make a "positive statement" when he entered the race and "didn't want the campaign to be negative. This is just what we've been learning through the entire campaign."

Swenson spends his time in the mornings and evenings talking to groups about potentially damaging budget cuts from the state that could force the county to close court one day a week. "It's very difficult. Being a chief judge is very tough especially when I am spending so many hours on our budget issues," Swenson said.

Haeg is charging at Swenson on several levels and he wrote a 2 1/2-page letter detailing his complaints. He blames Swenson for "lapses in judicial temperament," the number of cases that participants decline to have heard in his court and a state Department of Human Rights settlement with a former employee.

Haeg also points out that he feels he'd be the better judge.

"I think I'm more patient. I have the capacity to allow the litigants to establish a record," Haeg said, conceding that Swenson is very smart, but adding that can be a problem because "you run the risk of saying, 'I know better than you.'"