Editorial May 16, 2009: Judge Blakely, please resignTimothy Blakely should step down from the First Judicial District bench. That would be the appropriate and honorable thing to do.
By: R-E Editorial Board, The Republican Eagle
Timothy Blakely should step down from the First Judicial District bench. That would be the appropriate and honorable thing to do.
The Minnesota Board of Judicial Standards recommended May 8 that the state Supreme Court remove Blakely.
That is a harsher punishment than the six-month suspension the initial fact-finding panel suggested in March, but we agree with the board and contend that removal is inevitable given that Blakely changed his testimony and his attitude during the inquiry of his conduct.
If the Supreme won't remove him later this year, voters will when he's up for re-election 2010.
We would prefer to see him admit his mistake and remove himself. Blakely, who has been Goodhue County judge since 1998 and hears cases in six other counties, was accused in April 2008 of improperly receiving a $63,500 discount on his $109,000 divorce bill. He directed mediation business to the lawyer who handled his case.
No one disputes that, but his motivation was suspect.
The lawyer agreed to accept a lump sum plus substantial future benefits, as Blakely outlined in an e-mail, "from significant business referrals we have made, in excess of the compromise we are asking for."
The accusations against him became public that August, and hearings were held in November 2008. Meanwhile, Blakely continued to hear cases.
In March, a panel concluded that Blakely used his public authority for private gain.
Clearly, what he did was wrong. He refuses to acknowledge his misconduct, however, and that is more troublesome than his actions.
He testified, "I had the right and the duty for my family to have this bill dealt with in the only way I knew how and the only thing I had."
The "right and duty”?
What about the rights of the people appearing in his courtroom?
What about the duty of his office to deliver fair and impartial justice?
Initially, Blakely seemed to get it. He said that the e-mail exchange and subsequent referrals to his former divorce mediator might raise the "appearance of impropriety."
He backed away from that position, however, and argued that a fully informed person would see no impropriety.
Well, the fully informed legal minds that reviewed his case did see an impropriety.
Plus, they called Blakely's changing testimony "hardly credible."
When a judge's testimony lacks credibility, the people have no reasonable assurance that his courtroom and judgment are credible. Then a judge has lost his effectiveness.
Maybe this isn't a matter of Blakely refusing to admit his misconduct. Maybe it's a case of an inability to see what he did was wrong — a disturbing quality in a judge.
Blakely still contends that judges may make personal referrals, whether for friends or businesses acquaintances. Most judges hold the view that they may make no referrals to advance private interests, regardless of the parties' status.
We think this was the deciding factor in why the Board on Judicial Standards concluded that a six-month suspension isn't enough.
Blakely's conduct, testimony and judgment have been questioned and found lacking.
He still has a chance to redeem himself, in part anyway, if he can take one last impartial look at this case.
He should judge himself and hand down the appropriate sentence — his resignation.