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Mitchell replaces Dietzen as sentencing guidelines chair

Kevin Featherly//April 25, 2019

Mitchell replaces Dietzen as sentencing guidelines chair

Kevin Featherly//April 25, 2019

Former Supreme Court Justice Christopher Dietzen has been replaced as chair of Minnesota’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission by that group’s former executive director.

Kelly Lyn Mitchell was named new chair by Gov. Tim Walz on April 18. Walz also named the rest of his slate of commission appointees that same day.

Mitchell served as the commission’s executive director from 2014 to 2017. Before that she was a staff attorney and manager for the Minnesota Judicial Branch. She currently works as executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. Her commission appointment became effective Tuesday.

The move likely signals a change of direction for the group. Under Dietzen, the ideologically diverse panel focused on incremental change framed around consensus. As a frequent testifier before the commission, Mitchell has advocated for more far-reaching progressive reforms.

Dietzen reportedly had hoped to retain his post as chair. He accepted the role in 2015 after being tapped by Gov. Mark Dayton. That was after state Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea named him to the commission as one of her three judicial appointees. Dietzen’s current term expires in 2021.

Gildea’s other two appointees — Scott County District Court Judge Caroline Lennon and state Court of Appeals Judge Heidi Schellhas — also remain members. Lennon’s term expires in 2020; Schellhas’ expires on Oct. 15.

Mitchell replaces retired Hennepin County District Court Judge Mark Wernick, who previously announced his plans to leave the group. The rest of the governor’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission appointments include:

  • Tonja Honsey, of St. Paul, who will serve as a public member. On her Twitter feed, she identifies herself as “an incarceration survivor.” She is a recent member of the Wilder Foundation’s Community Equity Pipeline leadership program. Its website describes her as an indigenous woman and “revolutionary mother.” She replaces Yamy Vang, a lawyer who has served as an assistant St. Paul city attorney and who ran for a 10th District Court judgeship in 2010.
  • Peter Orput, of Stillwater, who works as the Washington County attorney, returns to the commission as a reappointment.
  • Salim Omari, of Inver Grove Heights, is a St. Paul Police sergeant. He returns as a reappointment.
  • Valerie Estrada, of Blaine, is a corrections unit supervisor and career probation officer for Hennepin County. She returns as a reappointment.
  • Cathryn Middlebrook, of St. Paul, is the state’s chief appellate public defender. She returns as a reappointment.
  • Abby Honold, of St. Paul, becomes the commission’s designated felony-crime victim representative. She gained some national notoriety as the namesake of a 2017 congressional bill meant to help law enforcement improve the sexual-assault reporting process. Sponsored by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, that bill remains in the works. She replaces Angela Champagne-From as victims’ representative.

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