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Blakely faces two challengers in bid for re-election

It is rare, very rare, for an incumbent judge to face a challenger, let alone two.

But this particular judge's seat in the 1st District, which covers Dakota, Goodhue LeSueur, McCloud, Scott and Sibley counties, and is currently held by Timothy Bakely, already has three candidates for the position (as of Tuesday). There will be a primary election in August.

Blakely, who was publicly reprimanded by the Supreme Court last year for his conduct while serving on the bench, has filed for another term. He faces challenges from private attorney Stephen Baker and Dakota County assistant attorney Larry Clark.

Blakely has been a 1st District judge for 11 years and has 17 years as a combined trial attorney, judge and adjunct professor of law. He earned his law degree from Hamline University School of Law. He has been admitted to practice law before the Supreme Court, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and all levels of the Minnesota courts. He is retired from the Navy.

"Those of you who appear in court are dealing with difficult, often emotional, even traumatic issues that deserve careful, thoughtful and timely resolution," Blakely said. "I strive to serve each of you with the courtesy and respect to which you are entitled.

"I am very proud and thankful to work in of the best judicial systems in our country," wrote Blakely in announcing his candidacy. "I believe dealing with the challenges and responsibilities of the trial bench to be the best way I can possibly serve our community."

In his filing statement, Blakely did not comment on his suspension/ reprimand by the Supreme Court.

Baker has a 23-year career with state and federal trial and appellate experience in Minnesota and Florida. He is the recipient of the 1st District's pro bono service award from the Minnesota Bar Association and has served on a wide variety of volunteer boards and committees, including those aimed at combating domestic violence. He has been a member of the Criminal Justice System DWI Task Force since 1997 and has been a volunteer arbitrator for the Minnesota and North Dakota Better Business Bureau for more than 10 years.

"It is essential for judicial candidates to have a very strong background of volunteering for one's community and serving people in need of help, in our complex justice system," he said.

A judge, Baker said, should follow the Constitution, have a strong regard for public safety, have a history of community service, have extensive courtroom service, and demonstrate professional ethic. He has all of the requirements, he said.

A 21-year member of the Dakota County Attorney's office, Clark has been one of the office's major criminal prosecutors. He has handled major crimes including murder, criminal sexual conduct, felony assault and robbery. In 1998, he was the co-recipient of the Prosecutor o the Year award, given by the International Association of Arson Investigators.

Clark earned his law degree from the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul and was employed at a small law firm in Ellsworth, Wis., for five years. He and his wife returned to Minnesota and have lived here since that time.

As part of his job with the Dakota County Attorney's Office, Clark is involved in providing training to various groups, including police officers and sexual assault advocates.

"Being a criminal prosecutor requires me to make decisions on daily basis that can literally alter the lives and careers of offenders and victims, as well as their families, and can have ripple effects well beyond the immediate community," Clark said. "I not only have an ethical obligation to be an aggressive and zealous advocate for the state, but I am also ethically bound to pursue justice for everyone."

That "exercise of authority" has prepared him to serve on the bench, he said.

"A judge must be able to make objective disinterested decisions based on the law and facts in front of him, disregarding all personal or political interests."

Clark said he filed for the position because "Judge Blakely has failed to live up to the trust placed in him by the people of the 1st Judicial District." He noted that the Supreme Court suspended Blakely for six months because of his conduct on the bench; Judge Blakely accepted a $63,000 reduction in fees he owed to his divorce attorney, in exchange for referrals he would make to that lawyer's firm.