Clerkships, Election Law, Politics, State Judges, Weirdness

Did a Minnesota judge and his law clerk attempt to collude to put a clerk on the bench?

Something odd is going on in the great state of Minnesota. The deadline for filing to run for judicial office in the North Star State was this past Tuesday, June 1, at 5 PM. Incumbent judges usually face no challengers, since it’s practically impossible to unseat an even marginally competent incumbent.

One such incumbent was Judge Thomas G. Armstrong (10th District Court 3), a 30-year veteran of the bench who first became a judge back in 1980. As of Tuesday morning, Judge Armstrong was running unopposed. No surprise there.

But then something strange occurred. Shortly before the deadline, Judge Armstrong’s law clerk, Dawn Hennessy, filed to run against her boss. Meanwhile, before anyone realized what was going on, Judge Armstrong withdrew from the race — leaving his law clerk, Dawn Hennessy, running unopposed for a Minnesota district court judgeship. Who says chivalry is dead?

And then things got even more strange….

Judge Thomas Armstrong’s withdrawal was so last-minute that an article in a local newspaper reported that Armstrong and Hennessy were running against each other. That was clearly not the case — as of around noon today, Eastern time, the candidate filings page of the Minnesota Secretary of State website showed Dawn Hennessy as running without opposition.

And Dawn Hennessy’s entry into the race also took place at the eleventh hour. How well-planned was it? Perhaps not terribly. Check out her candidate webpage (a screenshot from early this morning):

Yes, that’s right: Hennessy registered to run for a judgeship using the email address “” Should litigants appearing before Judge Hennessy eschew “Your Honor” in favor of “Your Wildness”?

(A little later in the morning, Dawn Hennessy changed her registered email address to the more respectable “”)

UPDATE: A commenter suggests that “dhwildgirl” probably means that Hennessy is a fan of the Minnesota Wild hockey team. Given my total ignorance of sports (with the exception of tennis), I didn’t entertain this possibility.

The water-cooler consensus in Minnesota legal circles, according to our sources: Judge Armstrong and Dawn Hennessy tried to collude to put a law clerk on the bench. And hey, can you blame them? As we’ve discussed before, the job market for law clerks remains tough. Having your law clerk replace you on the bench seems like a creative solution to the problem (and for many judges, the clerks are doing the job already anyway).

(And, in further defense of Armstrong and Hennessy, Hennessy seems to be more of a career clerk, not a fresh law school graduate. She’s been in practice for almost ten years — about as long as her boss was before he became a judge. According to Hennessy’s attorney registration page, she was admitted to the Minnesota bar on October 27, 2000.)

Early this morning, we started sniffing around the story, sending emails and leaving voice-mails for both Judge Armstrong and Dawn Hennessy. And then things got really weird: Dawn Hennessy apparently withdrew from the race.

Now if you go to the candidate filings page for the Minnesota secretary of state website and scroll down to 10th District Court 3, you see this listing: “No candidates filed.” We believe this change to the website took place sometime between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. Eastern time.

What the heck happened? It’s not clear. We’ve not heard back from the chambers of Judge Armstrong (and the voice-mail greeting of his judicial assistant said that he’s in trial today). Dawn Hennessy responded to voice-mails and emails requesting a telephone interview with this very brief message (sent from her “dhwildgirl” account):

Thank you for your inquiry Mr. Lat. However I am no longer a canidate [sic].

(We replied and asked why she withdrew from the race; we’ll update if we hear back from her.)

What will happen next? As of now, no candidates have filed to run for Judge Armstrong’s seat — and yet the deadline for candidates to file has now passed. Presumably the proceedings will be reopened.

If you have some info to share, please email us at our usual address, (subject line: “Minnesota judgeship situation”). Thanks.

UPDATE: Find out what happened next, plus Dawn Hennessy’s explanation of the situation, over here.

(hidden for your protection)

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