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Censure and suspension recommended for Judge Blakely

Following last week's recommendation by a three-member panel that Dakota County Judge Timothy Blakely should be censured and suspended for six months, the Minnesota Supreme Court will make the final decision.

The three-members on the panel are Edward Stringer, retired Supreme Court justice, and Lawrence Redmond and Allen Oleisky, retired District Court judges who were appointed last fall to make recommendations about Blakely's behavior during his divorce proceedings, which began in 2002, and subsequent referrals for his attorney to participate in mandatory pretrial mediations in cases he presided over in both Dakota and Goodhue counties. Blakely's attorneys were certified family court neutrals, providing services to parties involved in divorce proceedings. They were paid for their services.

According to documents filed with the Judicial Board of Review, by the end of 2003, Blakely was delinquent in paying his personal attorney, Christine Stroemer, for her work in handling his divorce. When the divorce settlement was reached in September, 2004, Blakely's owed his attorney about $100,000.

Prior to his divorce, Blakely had not appointed his attorney to mediate any of the divorce actions over which he presided. Shortly after the settlement was reached, Blakely referred his attorney to mediation sessions in at least 10 separate divorce actions.

Stroemer, though, continued to request payment from Blakely on his bill.

In October 2005, Blakely informed his attorney he was in a serious financial bind and asked her to "consider a compromise lump sum payment of fees rather than long-term monthly payments that we can barely make."

In the memo to Stroemer, Blakely acknowledged he was seeking a large discount, but justified it, based on past and future business referrals. He asked if she would accept all the proceeds from the sale of his home "and forgo any more fees."

Several months later, Blakely informed Stroemer of the purchase offer on his home. He estimated a net profit of about $30,000 on the sale.

Stroemer acknowledged she was forgoing more than $60,000 in fees, but appreciated the referrals in the past and would appreciate them in the future.

In April 2006, Blakely paid his attorney (from the sale of his home) more than $31,000. At that time he owed the law firm about $94,000. The firm wrote off the remaining amount.

In another message to Blakely, Stroemer wrote, "I had to do a lot of explaining to my partners as to the reasoning for writing off over $60,000 in your legal fees ... I do hope that you continue to recognize my legal abilities and continued to refer mediation cases to me."

In the spring of 2006, Blakely referred nine more cases to Stroemer for mediation or related services.

In April 2007, Blakely's former wife filed a complaint with the Judicial Board of Review accusing her former husband of judicial misconduct. She alleged Blakely was given "special financial arrangements" by his personal attorney.

Judge Blakely responded to the complaint by indicating he had experienced a tremendous financial hardship, leaving him unable to fully pay his attorney's bill. His initial response contained no mention of any business referrals to the law firm.

Stroemer provided copies of e-mail messages and other correspondence with Blakely regarding his bill. She said she had made other similar arrangements with other clients in the office.

"The end result is that the attorney/client relationship remains on an amicable basis with the goal that the clients may then refer future work to the office," she said.

In supplemental information to the Board of Judicial Review, Blakely acknowledged that his e-mail exchange with Stroemer created an appearance of impropriety.

"I now see that as a judge, I should not have mentioned my ability to continue to direct business referrals to them in the context of a negotiation over the fees I owed to them, since this mention, at the very least, raises the issue or appearance of impropriety," he said.