On Tuesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Jamie L. Anderson to the 4th Judicial District Court following the retirement of Judges Tanja Manrique. Press reports note that Anderson is the wife of Pawlenty’s deputy chief of staff and that the appointment raised eyebrows because the governor bypassed the standard judicial selection process to tap a friend’s wife who has little major legal experience. But one fact may shed some light on the appointment: Anderson has ample religious right experience.
Pawlenty picked Anderson without going through the Commission on Judicial Selection, which vets applications for judicial positions and makes recommendations to the governor. Pawlenty skipped that process, and while legally he has that right and past governors have also done the same, local media picked up on it because Anderson is a friend of Pawenty’s. As MinnPost notes, she’s married to Paul Anderson, who serves as his deputy chief of staff.
“Anderson was a surprise choice because she works for a small firm, has not been a prominent lawyer and was not screened through the Commission on Judicial Selection,” the Star Tribune wrote on Tuesday.
But she has handled some high-profile cases for the religious right.
Anderson served as counsel for the Minnesota Family Council (MFC) when that group recently petitioned a Hennepin County judge to become defendants in a case seeking to overturn Minnesota’s ban on same-sex marriage. Three couples have filed suit against Hennepin County and the State of Minnesota challenging the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. The case will be heard in the 4th Judicial District Court, the same court where Anderson was appointed.
Jason Shellack, an attorney for the same-sex couples, said that Anderson joined the case this fall. The Family Council had enlisted the help of James Dobson’s Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) in its bid to be named a defendant in the case, but needed a local attorney to back the ADF’s case. When a previous local attorney dropped the case, Shellack said, Anderson joined up to assist MFC and ADF.
A judge rejected MFC’s request to be named as a defendant in the case late last month.
Would Anderson be in a position to hear the gay marriage case? “She would have to recuse herself if the case came before her,” said Shellack. “Our case is not threatened by her appointment.”
In 2009, Anderson represented Child Evangelism Fellowship of Minnesota (CEF) along with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Counsel, an evangelical legal group, in a suit against the Elk River School District. The district allowed outside groups such as the Boy Scouts to send literature home with students, but when the CEF asked to send literature about Christianity home with students, the district said no.
The court said that the district’s policy was discriminatory, and the district amended that policy so that no groups could send literature home with students.
In the CEF case, Anderson was part of the legal team of her employer, Howse and Associates. According to the firm’s website, Anderson’s specialties are business law and new company formation, wills and trusts, probate and real estate.
Anderson also served as a lobbyist for Frank Vennes in 2007. Vennes, a born-again Christian, made headlines after the fall of Tom Petters’ Ponzi scheme when his home was raided by authorities in October 2008. He hasn’t been charged in the case, though his name was frequently brought up in the trials against Petters and his employees. Vennes made significant money finding investors for what was later revealed to be a Ponzi scheme created by Petters.
Vennes was a large donor to evangelical outfits such as Minnesota Teen Challenge through the Fidelis Foundation.
The Fidelis Foundation, based in Plymouth, Minn., was a nonprofit organization “organized to assist Christians in discerning, clarifying and implementing God’s call and direction in their life.” G. Craig Howse, Anderson’s boss at Howse and Thompson, was its chairman, was Vennes’ personal lawyer, and leased space to Fidelis.