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Home / Minnesota Legal News / Legal News / Judicial Elections 2012 / 4th Judicial District, Seat 22: Antolak v. Cutter
Coverage of Minnesota judicial election candidates Steven Antolak and Elizabeth V. Cutter.

4th Judicial District, Seat 22: Antolak v. Cutter

Editor’s Note: Steven Antolak’s biography and questionnaire did not appear in print. His responses have been amended to this post so that voters can have more complete information. 

STEVEN ANTOLAK

Date of Birth: July 14, 1957

Education: Associate of Liberal Arts University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts; Bachelor of Arts Economics (Econometrics) University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts; Juris Doctor William Mitchell College of Law; Certified ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution Training) William Mitchell College of Law

Employment: Antolak Law Office (2003-2012); London, Anderson, Antolak & Hoeft, Ltd. (1992-2003); CEO Eagle Fraternal Life Insurance (1992-2001); Jacobson Stromme & Harwood, P.A.(1989-1992); Bowman & London P.A. (1986-1989)

Professional Associations: North Hennepin Area Chamber of Commerce, American Bar Association, Minnesota State Bar Association, Hennepin County Bar Association

Community Activities: High School Moot Court coach; High School Mock Interviews volunteer; Brooklyn Park Planning Commission; Boy Scout Troop 542 Chair and Adult Leader (Prince of Peace Lutheran Church) and BSA Northern Lights District Roundtable Commissioner; North Hennepin Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassador; Catechist, Eucharistic Minister and Hospitality Minister, St. Gerard’s Church;  Knights of Columbus Service Organization Volunteer

Hobbies/Interests: Leadership development and training in youth and adults; camping, bicycling, motorcycling, gardening, gourmet cooking

Family: Married to Joni Mack (26 years); one son attending Park Center Senior High School

Website: voteantolak.com

Why did you opt to become a judge? (for incumbents) OR Why do you want to become a judge? (for challengers)

I believe in service to our community and I want to continue that service as a judge. I have volunteered for the Human Rights Commission and Planning Commission in Brooklyn Park, and many county and local citizen task forces. I have served on the ISD 279 School Board, and on the Intermediate District 287 School Board that provides special needs services to students throughout Hennepin County. I volunteer as a Law Day presenter, Moot Court Coach, Boy Scout leader and various ministries in my church.

My life experience and public service has prepared me to be a district court judge.  Volunteering in the community, particularly in areas outside my profession, has brought me closer to others in need and developed greater capacity for compassion in me.

I have a deep and abiding respect for the pursuit of justice.  As a trial attorney, I have a personal and direct opportunity to bring more justice into our world. I am proud that our profession tries to mend our world. Being a Judge would bring me into a deeper embrace with justice

What is the most important personal quality in a judge?

The most important quality in a judge is compassion. The compassion of which I write is a deep regard for the sorrows or troubles of another coupled to a powerful urge to alleviate pain or distress. A compassionate judge renders justice and not merely mercy or revenge.

Why should voters select you rather than your opponent?

I have been a litigator conducting trials, hearings, and discovery for over 30 years. I have practiced in many jurisdictions, in many different courts and in eight States, giving me great breadth of experience in the substance of the law, as well as broad experience in the way many courts and judges employ court procedures to resolve disputes. I understand that how a judge manages the courtroom can have a profound effect on the quality of justice rendered there and the costs, monetary and otherwise that are imposed on litigants.

I have experienced the pressures, motivations and conduct on both sides of criminal prosecutions.  I have experienced the full dimension of the types of cases heard by judges in Hennepin County, not just the government side of a short list of types of cases.

My service on school boards has given me a unique insight into the role of judge. While on the school board, we did take testimony publicly, deliberate problems and solutions publicly, and announce a public decision. I have faced the pressures of public opposition (and support) for public decision-making and I know I have the toughness to stand on principle to “do the right thing”.

Unlike my opponent, I have not restricted my practice to representing only the government nor have I been limited to experiencing litigation only in Hennepin County.  I can bring fresh insight and new solutions to Hennepin County.

What have been some of your accomplishments during your time on the bench? (for incumbents) OR What experience have you had in dealing with the court on which you wish to sit? (for challengers)

As a clerk, staff attorney, and assistant county attorney in Hennepin County, I conducted thousands of arraignments and court appearances. I conducted trials, motions to compel or exclude evidence, probation revocation hearings, sentencings, and post-conviction proceedings.

As a private attorney, I have conducted trials, contested hearings, and discovery throughout my 30 years as a licensed attorney.  I have litigated contract cases, property disputes, employment cases, divorces, partnership dissolutions, child custody disputes, business disputes, will contests and guardianship proceedings.

Other than financial resources, what are the major issues facing the court on which you sit or wish to sit?

Our Courts are challenged to make access to justice a high priority for everyone in the legal system.   This is not just about finding affordable legal representation. Long waits for hearings and packed courtrooms for first appearances diminish the perception of justice. Unresponsive court personnel and confusing procedures grind those seeking justice into simply settling for “getting it over with.”  Generating goodwill is not just about feeling good about the courts, but assuring that every person has access to justice.

A second critical issue facing courts is responding to the growing number of self-represented parties. Without directed and relevant sources the public is likely to use forms, papers, and solutions that are inapt. Ill-fitting solutions make matters unneccessarily complicated. They waste resources needed to correct the situation and otherwise are counterproductive.

A third issue facing the courts is the increasing racial, cultural, and economic diversity of users of judicial branch resources.  As our society grows more diverse, the basic experiences of life, social norms, values, and expectations are less homogenous, resulting in opportunities for conflict based on misunderstanding.

How can those issues be realistically addressed?

In a time of strained budgets, the best way to respond to the needs of the public who come in contact with the justice system is to leverage existing resources, technologies, and the skills and talents of staff to improve efficiencies in the delivery of services.  Adoption of some of the technologies in use in private business can streamline communications, automate tasks, and free up staff time presently dedicated to file maintenance and storage.  Business practices, such as use of off-hour “call centers” and “help desk” technologies can provide better assistance to the public. I will work to bring those economical technologies so common in private practice and the business world to the court system. I will work to improve the delivery of judicial services to the public.

To assist the increasing numbers of self-represented parties, we must identify and explain the risks of self-representation, particularly with respect to complex matters such as insurance questions, employee welfare and benefit plans as well as real estate issues.

To deal with diversity, we must create a welcoming environment for people from diverse backgrounds.  . A Judge (and all judicial employees) must be knowledgeable about cultural differences and sensitive to the messages conveyed while interacting with people from varying backgrounds.

What can the court do to address its funding deficit?

The judiciary must assert itself as an equal branch of our government.  The judiciary has no ability to fund itself, so it must advocate effectively in the legislature and the forum of public opinion. Of late, this is done with mind-numbing statistical arguments and presentations. The judiciary must articulate a clear vision of what access to justice means for everyone and how our judiciary is making that vision a reality for our community.

Do you have any suggestions/ideas about the day to day operation of the court?

The courts must accelerate their adoption of technologies in use in private business, such as “paperless” communications, online collaboration, and shared document storage, the use of off-hour “call centers” and “help desk” technologies.

Rules and practices that mandate pretrial disclosures and negotiated discovery plans can streamline the discovery process.

What should the court do to promote public trust and confidence in the judiciary?

The ingredients of trust and confidence are competence, integrity, and goodwill.  The public needs all three elements to place its faith in our system. Every person needs to feel that if they act reasonably, the courts will protect their lives and livelihood.

What else would you like voters to know about your candidacy?

I have had the remarkable experience of growing up the son of immigrants to this country.  My parents spent years in slave labor camps during World War II and then, after being liberated by the allies, spent more years in refugee camps. They came to the U.S. broke and broken, but hopeful about their future. I have seen injustice.  I know the struggles faced by immigrant families. I recognize the challenges our society faces as we welcome people from many new and different cultures.  I understand the role of diversity in a healthy society.

My experience has imbued in me a deep appreciation and love for our country and everything the U.S. offers to the world.  My commitment to public service reflects these values.

On the Independent School District 279 Osseo Area Schools board, I faced a budget shortfall of over $16 million dollars (total budget about $200 million). Without the ability to levy taxes or borrow without a levy election, the board had no choice but to cut payroll substantially and close four schools. The hearings we conducted leading up to the closings were contentious. The emails from concerned and interested parents were relentless. Hostility was so high that additional security was hired for meetings and forums in which closure issues were being discussed by the board.

I find I can tolerate high conflict situations because I am well grounded.

I have achieved the personal and professional maturity necessary to succeed in the role of a judge. I am unafraid to ask questions when I do not have the answers.  I am not afraid to stretch myself and take on new ideas and challenges. I am a man of integrity.  I have learned to be patient and kind. I believe these qualities, together with my commitment to public service would make me an excellent district court judge.

Elizabeth V. Cutter

ELIZABETH V. CUTTER

Date of Birth: July 3, 1952

Education: William Mitchell College of Law, J.D., cum laude, 1980; University of Minnesota, B.E.S., 1974, M.A., 1992

Employment: Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, 1988-present; Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, 1980-1987

Professional Associations: Minnesota Women Lawyers, past president, board of directors, committee chair;  American Bar Association; Minnesota State Bar Association, mock trial coach and judge; Hennepin County Bar Association, criminal committee co-chair, nominating committee; district ethics committee; member of the following interdisciplinary committees: Fatality Review Team, Family Violence Coordinating Council, and Domestic Violence Steering Committee

Community Activities: Interact Center for the Arts, board of directors; Minnesota Swimming, Inc. , board of directors, legislative chair; Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association, board of directors, member, Enrollee Appeals Committee; Citizens for the Loring Park Community

Interests: The YWCA Masters Swim Team; Salubrious Running Club; Musica Ipsa Loquitor, a group of amateur musicians who perform publicly for fun. I belong to book clubs and enjoy cooking.

Family: Married with three adult children.

Website: cutter4judge.com

Why do you want to become a judge?

I have tried over 100 jury trials and literally hundreds of bench trials. I have seen the difference a good judge can make. I believe that I have the experience, temperament, and leadership skills to be an exceptional judge.

What is the most important personal quality in a judge?

The one quality that underlies all others in a good judge is fairness. A fair judge is hard-working, respectful, timely, prepared, thoughtful, decisive, and patient.

Why should voters select you rather than your opponent?

I have greater depth and breadth of trial experience. My knowledge of the Hennepin County court system is more extensive. I have worked in the Hennepin County courts for over 20 years and I know how the system works. I have served on several interdisciplinary committees within the County and know how the many disciplines interact and function. The committees on which I have served are dedicated to ensuring effective and efficient delivery of services through our justice system. I have held more law-related leadership positions and I know and have worked with other leaders in the legal community. Finally, because of my experience in the profession and in the community, I have the support of leaders in our legal community and leaders in the community at large. These are people with whom I have worked professionally and in my community service. I am proud and honored that they have placed their confidence in me.

What experience have you had in dealing with the court on which you wish to sit?

I appear daily before in the Hennepin County courts and have for more than 20 years. In the years that I worked at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, I appeared in Hennepin County, district courts throughout the state, and federal court. I successfully argued for dismissal of an appeal before the United States Supreme Court.

Other than financial resources, what are the major issues facing the court on which you sit or wish to sit?

The future of the pilot criminal blocking system; the changing demographics in the county with the increase in the immigrant population and the aging population with the resulting decrease in tax revenues and a shift in funding away from court services to age-based programming; the transition to a paperless court; the dramatic increase in pro se (self-represented) litigants, particularly in family court.

How can those issues be realistically addressed?

The criminal blocking system has been in effect for several years with modifications over that period. In general, most participants find it more effective than a master calendar system. One continuing issue is the time required to process cases to resolution, particularly criminal cases. Between 2/3 and 3/4 of the filings in Hennepin County are criminal. One solution might be to implement pure divisions so that judicial resources are dedicated to handling either criminal or civil but not both. This could result in greater efficiencies and greater systemic accountability. This will also allow for district court administration to measure work being done and align resources accordingly. There is not an easy solution and not all stakeholders will agree to all suggested modifications. Hennepin County District Court needs to continue its development of its interpretive services for non-English speaking citizens.. For example, Hennepin County will need to provide translated forms and documents in multiple languages. Hennepin County is also planning for the changing demographics toward an older population. Not only will the needs of the citizens change as the population ages, the tax revenue to meet those needs will diminish as current workers retire and fewer young workers replace them. These changes in demographics and revenue may present an opportunity for collaboration among counties to provide more regionally-based services in areas where that is constitutionally and practically possible.

The Self-Help Center in Hennepin County is a very good start at addressing the issues raised by pro se litigants. But, District Court needs to develop more effective systems in specific areas, for example, housing court and conciliation court appeals, where more than the Self Help Center may be needed. They need to develop broader partnerships with the private bar (which is being done on a pilot basis in the conciliation court area) to try to provide pro boon legal representation to those in need.

What can the court do to address its funding deficit?

District Court can demonstrate that it is doing everything possible and is still unable to meet the needs presented. Hennepin County District Court has implemented a strategic plan and can demonstrate that the court’s efforts have been successful under that plan. Hennepin County can also demonstrate the success of specific efforts to increase effective, efficient, measures. With this information, Hennepin Court District Court can appeal to the legislature for targeted resources to address the most serious needs.

Do you have any suggestions/ideas about the day to day operation of the court?

Within the context of the suggestions raised above, I believe the day to day operation of the courts will improve.

What should the court do to promote public trust and confidence in the judiciary?

On a micro level, each party in the system can ensure that the community members interacting with the justice system are heard and understood and that they understand what was done and why. The goal is that litigants enter the system confident that they will be heard and leave feeling that they were treated fairly. On a macro level, members of the judiciary can participate in community organizations to assist in educating the public about the justice system so that the system appears accessible and transparent. In that way, those who need the system will have the confidence that their legal concerns can and will be addressed fairly and effectively. The perception of fairness and accessibility is as important as the reality. We all need to work hard to ensure that the public perceives our justice system as accessible and fair and that the public perception is based in reality.

What else would you like voters to know about your candidacy?

I am running for judge because I believe I can have a positive impact on our justice system. I have worked as a trial lawyer for over 30 years. I believe that I have had a positive impact on the lives of those affected by the cases I have handled as a prosecutor. I believe that my work as a public service trial lawyer has had a positive impact on the administration of justice. I believe deeply in our system of justice. I have been a fair, hard-working, and respectful trial lawyer. I will be that kind of judge.

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