By: Erin Hollenkamp
The Minnesota Supreme Court has decided to discipline a judge who received a significant discount on his own legal costs in exchange for steering cases to his own divorce lawyer, according to Frederick Melo, reporting for the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
However, District Judge Timothy Blakely will not be fired.
Blakely hears cases in two Minnesota counties, but will be suspended from the bench for six months without compensation, following the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month. That absence will cost Blakely about $60,000.
His suspension will begin immediately, and Blakely will be reprimanded and unable to practice law until the suspension ends.
"In essence, he cannot practice law for six months, be it as a judge or as a lawyer," said Martin Cole, director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility.
Blakely was elected to the bench in the 1st Judicial District in 1998 and re-elected to a six-year term in 2004.
In May, the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards announced that a fact-finding panel found that over a period of three and a half years, Blakely referred at least 17 divorce cases to his own divorce attorney for mediation or related services, in addition to referring people he himself knew.
The arrangement led to more than $64,000 for Blakely from Collins, Buckley, Sauntry and Haugh in 2002. The amount of his discount amounts to almost two-thirds of the cost of his own divorce.
Blakely hired the law firm in 2002 to represent him in his divorce. According to his statements last year to the MBJS fact-finding panel, Blakely believed a quick settlement was likely, and as a result he was surprised when his case dragged on and his legal costs rose to $109,000.
Blakely told the panel that he had referred only friends and acquaintances to the law firm, not participants from cases he presided over as judge. The Supreme Court failed to clarify the nature of his referrals to the law firm in his contact with them.
Blakely asked to be publicly censured and not suspended or removed from office after the allegations surfaced. The Minnesota Supreme Court did not specifically find that Blakely had engaged in a "quid quo pro" arrangement with his divorce attorney, but did rule that his actions "reflected a serious lack of judgment" for failing to inform parties in cases before him that he was a client of the attorney that he was referring them to.
Under the Minnesota state Code of Judicial Conduct, judges cannot accept gifts or special arrangements that could "reasonably be perceived as intended to influence the judge in the performance of judicial duties."
The Supreme Court stopped just short of removing Blakely from office, noting that just three judges have been forced off the Minnesota bench since 1972, and on that scale, the judge's offense did not merit a similar punishment.
Source: Twin Cities Pioneer Press