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Two judges’ seats are being contested in 2020 judicial races for Minnesota’s 9th District, of which Koochiching County is a part.

The 9th District serves the counties of Koochiching, Aitkin, Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake and Roseau.

Twelve of the district’s 24 judge seats are up for election this fall, and an incumbent is running in each race. Both contested races are in seated in Cass County.

Seeking the 9th District Court 19 judge: Jana M. Austad, James Hughes.

Seeking the 9th Distrist Court 4 judge position: Charles D Halverson, Benjamin T. Lindstrom.

The Journal sent questionnaires to candidates in contested state and local elections, with responses due at 9 a.m. Sept. 9. Candidates who did not respond, or who responded too late, are not included in this Voter’s Guide material. Only spelling errors were corrected.

Each of the candidates in the races for judges were limited to 500 words in their total responses to the following:

  1. Briefly summarize your personal background and experiences.
  2. Why is it important Koochiching County voters know about you?
  3. What are your priorities?
  4. Why are you the best candidate for this office?
  5. Is there something else you want to tell constituents about yourself or your views?

Court 4

Charles D. Halverson

1. I am Judge Charles Halverson. I have been working in the Ninth Judicial District for 30+ years. After earning a degree from the University of North Dakota, I attended Hamline University School of Law.

My extensive experience earned me the distinction of being named a Criminal Law Specialist. Less than 60 lawyers have earned that distinction of the 16,000+ lawyers in Minnesota.

I have considerable experience in family, child protection, a family law mediator, as well as a variety of civil cases.

2. Governor Mark Dayton appointed me in December of 2018. In that appointment process, my credentials and background were thoroughly reviewed by the Commission on Judicial Selection; in other words, thoroughly vetted.

Koochiching County residents must be confident in our court system. Just because a judge is “housed” in one county doesn’t mean they don’t hear cases in other counties. Currently, I have matters in multiple counties.

It’s important you know that our state court system is a place of justice. I am committed to responsible decision-making and following our state’s constitution and laws.

Treating everyone with dignity and respect is important. As an active member of the 9th Judicial District’s Equal Justice Committee, I work with other judges to ensure equality in the court system.

I have lived in the Ninth Judicial District for 35 years. My wife, Julie, and I have raised four children; we have one grandchild, with one on the way! I am a passionate hockey fan and player. I enjoy spending time with family, playing golf, hiking, and motorcycle riding.

3. I have a long history of advocating for supporting people in recovery from chemical dependency or behavioral issues. I strongly believe in the benefit of treatment courts for people who suffer from addiction. Treatment courts benefit their families and lead to safer communities.

I have spent my entire legal career championing the positive effects of treatment and the supportive environments of treatment courts. I am acquainted with members of the excellent treatment court that works well in Koochiching County. I know that such courts are under attack.

4. I do not take the responsibility of this position lightly. Neither should you. Working in courtrooms for 30+ years as a lawyer and judge has taught me that integrity, humility, compassion, and a strong work ethic are a must to be a District Court Judge in this district.

5. Each time I walk into a courtroom, I continue to be inspired and strive to do what’s right.

It has been a true honor and privilege to serve you in that capacity. I’m asking for your vote. I am asking you vote incumbent, so I can continue to work hard to honor the trust placed in me. Thank you. Judge Charles Halverson.

Court 19

Jana M. Austad

1. I have been a District Court Judge since 2013. In 2019 I was elected by my peers as Assistant Chief Judge. Volunteering as co-judge for the Cass County/Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Joint Jurisdiction Wellness Court has helped our two governments work together to reduce recidivism of repeat DWI offenders. Volunteering on the Supreme Court Rules of Evidence Advisory Committee, as a liaison Judge for Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center, and on the Vinland National Center Board keeps me invested in improving all areas of our legal system.

Other work experience includes 10 years as Managing Attorney for the Brainerd Regional Office of the Minnesota Public Defender, 7 years as an attorney with the law firm of Keif, Fuller, Baer, Wallner and Rodgers and 7 years as a stay at home mom for three children.

2. Ninth Judicial District elections cover 17 Counties, including Koochiching. Any judge in the District can hear and decide cases in all 17 counties. While a judge may not be chambered in Koochiching County, she will likely preside over cases here at various times throughout the term.

3. My top priorities are, and always have been, integrity, neutrality and fairness. I uphold the laws of the United States, Minnesota and local units of government. Neutrality requires fair application of laws to all, regardless of individual beliefs. Fairness is giving time and opportunity for both sides to be heard.

4. Most judges in Minnesota are Merit Selection appointments by the Governor of Minnesota when there’s a mid-term vacancy. Candidates wishing to fill that vacancy are first evaluated by the Judicial Selection Commission. This is a diverse group of citizens comprised of lawyers and non lawyers and always includes citizens from the Ninth Judicial District for Ninth District appointments. In fact, a former mayor of International Falls served on the commission. After close review and anonymous vetting, three candidates are sent to the Governor for appointment consideration. While this does not guarantee perfect judges, it does provide significant protections to citizens through recommending candidates with significant, diverse legal experience and demonstrated professional skills and demeanor over years of practice. I have civil, criminal and judicial experience. You deserve a judge with a proven record of integrity and professionalism.

5. Raised in the heart of the Ninth Judicial District, I was confirmed in the First Lutheran Church and graduated from Bemidji High School. After college and law school, I returned to my hometown to be a lawyer. I worked with individuals and local government clients to litigate or resolve their disputes. I was a stay at home mom for over seven years, then returned to practice in criminal law for ten years, managing lawyers and staff. During these years I invested in our community by volunteering personally and professionally and continue to do so. Leadership is in lifting up others, cultivating successes and resolutions. Integrity flows from decades of work and volunteering in our community.

James Hughes

1. I have over two decades of combined legal and business experience. My bachelor's degree is in finance and before becoming an attorney, I spent nearly a decade working with the JPMorgan Chase organization in the Chicago area. I earned my law degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and throughout my legal career, I have represented hundreds of people whose cases were heard in the 9th Judicial District. In addition to my extensive courtroom experience, I am the executive director of a law firm, managing a five-attorney law office that handles cases across Northern Minnesota.

2. 9th Judicial District judges can impact the people of Koochiching County even if the judge isn't permanently chambered in International Falls. For instance, judges in neighboring counties decide which inmates to release from jail, and those decisions impact public safety across Northern Minnesota. As another example, Judges decide who prevails in child custody disputes, impacting visiting rights for relatives and parents who don't necessarily live in the same county where the court case is heard. Finally, judges make decisions about peoples’ rights that can be reversed or affirmed by Minnesota appellate courts, sometimes setting legal precedents that are then applied to citizens statewide. The potential ripple effect of decisions made by judges in other counties makes choosing the right judge in this election important to the voters of Koochiching County even if the judge won't be chambered in International Falls.

3. I believe firmly in upholding all the individual rights outlined in the Bill of Rights, and that our federal Constitution and Treaties are the supreme law of the land.

I reject judicial activism and intend to apply the law conservatively in the courtroom, following the law as it is written and without personal agendas or judicial activism.

I am committed to honoring the limits on judicial power that our Constitution has placed on judges and intend to honor the Constitutional separation of powers and principles of judicial restraint.

I believe that judges are servants of the people of their judicial districts. In my view, a judge must exercise his decision-making power fairly and impartially and must treat all people who come to court with dignity and respect.

4. I believe Northern Minnesotans want and expect their judges to have the legal values and personal temperament that I would bring to the position. I have the integrity to honor Constitutional limits on judicial power, and to apply the law that our Constitutions and Legislatures have given us without improperly making up my own laws in the courtroom. Although judicial elections are non-partisan and this is neither a Democratic nor a Republican office, I am a legal conservative and believe in honoring those professional values. Northern Minnesotans also value fairness and respect in their judges, and I am committed to treating each person in the courtroom with the courtesy and professionalism that they deserve, regardless of race, gender, or belief systems.

5. Turn your ballot over and VOTE for James Hughes, Seat 19.

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