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Lawyers down on Blakely: Poll shows strong support for Clark

Voters may have backed a Dakota County judge in the August primary election, but a poll of Minnesota lawyers shows overwhelming support for his opponent.

According to a poll conducted by the Minnesota State Bar Association, Larry Clark leads incumbent Timothy Blakely 72 to 28 percent in the race for First District Court judge. Forty-six lawyers in the judicial district were polled, with 33 voting for Clark and 13 backing Blakely.

The poll runs in stark contrast to primary results, where Blakely won comfortably. He won 40 percent of the vote, with Clark carrying 31 percent - just ahead of contender Stephen Baker, who received about 29 percent.

Minnesota legal insiders have closely watched the race, which pits Blakely - who ran afoul of the courts system in 2008 - against Clark, a Dakota County prosecutor.

Blakely came under review by the State Board of Judicial Standards amid allegations he received a $63,500 discount on his divorce costs in exchange for funneling mediation business to his personal lawyer.

The board recommended the Minnesota Supreme Court remove Blakely from office. The high court in September 2009 censured Blakely for six months without pay.

Judicial races typically fall under what University of Minnesota political science and law professor Timothy Johnson called "down-ballot elections."

"They are just not folks that the public really knows a whole lot about," he said.

Had voters been more informed on Blakely's legal troubles, he likely would have lost some votes in the primary, Johnson said. But, he added, that would have depended on how serious voters perceived the charges to be, and how strong Blakely's opponents were.

"It probably would have affected him to some extent," Johnson said.

Clark, a Red Wing resident, handily defeated Blakely in Goodhue County - where Blakely is chambered - in the primary by 18 percentage points.

But incumbents hold the trump cards in judicial elections, Johnson said, calling it a problem with the democratic process.

For one, voters generally are uninformed on the races. Johnson said that problem is compounded by the fact that incumbents get to point to experience on the bench, while challengers generally cannot.

"The incumbents have the massive advantage," he said.

That, he said, likely proved true for Blakely.

Goodhue was the only one of the seven counties that compose the First Judicial Distric. In three of those counties - Le Sueur, McLeod and Sibley - Blakely captured more than 50 percent of the vote.

The MSBA poll was conducted between Aug. 19 and Sept. 2.