Minnesota Court of Appeals Chief Judge Edward J. Cleary will retire from the court on April 30, 2020, he announced Tuesday. Cleary, 66, is the second-longest-serving chief in the 36-year history of the Court of Appeals. He has served as chief judge since Nov. 1, 2013, following his appointment by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Also on Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz announced Cleary’s reappointment as chief judge until his retirement. At that time, a new chief judge will be selected to serve the remainder of the term, which will expire on October 31, 2022.
“It has been a great honor for me to serve the citizens of Minnesota as a member of the judiciary these past 17 years,” Cleary said. “My years as chief judge of the Court of Appeals will be among my fondest memories, thanks to my colleagues and the outstanding support staff here at the court. I look forward to joining my wife in retirement in the spring of 2020, as we get our chance to relax and travel, and perhaps I will return to writing and teaching as well.”
Cleary, a St. Paul native, practiced law in St. Paul from 1977 to 1997, and as a Ramsey County public defender from 1980 to 1995. In that capacity he successfully argued the case of RAV v. City of St. Paul before the United States Supreme Court in 1991, winning an unanimous decision resulting in an opinion that the New York Times described as “a decision of landmark dimension, a declaration in favor of more speech rather than less.” Cleary wrote an award-winning book on the case, “Beyond the Burning Cross: the First Amendment and the landmark R.A.V. case,” published by Random House, in 1994.
Cleary served as the director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility from 1997 to 2002, when he was appointed by Gov. Jesse Ventura to serve as a District Court judge in the 2nd Judicial District. As assistant chief judge of the 2nd Judicial District, he served on the Canvassing Board, which determined the outcome of the 2008 U.S. Senate election between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. Cleary served as a District Court judge until he was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2011. Dayton later appointed him chief judge in 2013, and again in 2016.
In addition to his judicial duties, Cleary was an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, his alma mater, from 2000 to 2011. Chief Judge Cleary has received a number of recognitions throughout his distinguished career, including the Graven Public Service Award from the Minnesota State Bar Association for service to the profession and the community in 1998; the Distinguished Humanitarian Award from the Ramsey County Bar Association in 2015; and as an Alumni of Notable Achievement by the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts in 2017.