ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The first person Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals became his choice Wednesday to lead the 19-member court.

Dayton elevated Judge Edward Cleary to be chief judge after first naming him to the appellate court in 2011. It’s the latest pick by Dayton for a key judicial slot after having named two Supreme Court justices already.

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Judge Matthew Johnson had been in the top role but decided against seeking another three-year stint in charge. His term as chief expires next month.

The appeals court handles thousands of cases each year.

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Dayton, who could have chosen any of the sitting judges, said Cleary is held in high regard by his peers and considered him “the slightly best of really outstanding possibilities.”

Cleary was initially appointed a judge by Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura in 2002. Before that he led the office that investigated complaints against lawyers. In 2008, he was a member of the board that oversaw the recount in the close U.S. Senate contest that ended with Democratic challenger Al Franken defeating incumbent Republican Norm Coleman.

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