DFL lawyer Lillehaug named to Supreme Court

Lillehaug has represented the U, Al Franken and Gov. Dayton.

Brian Arola

BY BRIAN AROLA         

[email protected]

Gov. Mark Dayton announced Tuesday that David Lillehaug, a Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawyer, will fill the soon-to-be vacant spot on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Lillehaug, who has in the past represented the University of Minnesota, will replace Justice Paul Anderson, who’s stepping down in May after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Lillehaug was one of three candidates for a previous Supreme Court opening and was chosen this time through a separate process, Dayton said.

Lillehaug said his work ethic will help him make the transition from trial court to the bench.

“Anyone who knows me … knows that when I focus on something, I really throw myself into it,” he said.

Appointing justices with partisan pasts is nothing new to the highest court in Minnesota, but Lillehaug’s connections to the DFL Party run particularly deep. In a 2011 profile, Capitol Report called him the “DFL’s man on the inside.”

He represented both U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Dayton in their recounts and the DFL Party during last year’s redistricting.

Anderson said having a justice with a political background ensures people know where the justice — whom they can vote for or against — will stand on issues.

Supreme Court justices are elected to six-year terms, but if a justice resigns, dies or, like Anderson, retires during a term, the governor appoints a replacement.

“I applaud the background of the new justice because that’s what we need in the court,” he said.

Lillehaug has also worked with the University in the past, preparing reports on independent investigations.

A Harvard Law School graduate, Lillehaug said he will look at cases with a balanced eye. He joked that his college debate team experience will help him — and possibly inspire friendly post-decision discussions — with fellow debate-teamer on the bench, Justice G. Barry Anderson.

Lillehaug said one of the first things he’s looking forward to as a justice is accepting Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea’s invitation to meet and discuss law.

Although just named to the court, Lillehaug will be up for re-election in 2014. He said he hopes to serve until he reaches the mandatory retirement age.