ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota legislator tried unsuccessfully last month to personally intervene with a judge who ordered a business owner in his district to pay a legal judgment of more than $240,000.
State Rep. Jim Newberger’s effort to win his constituent and one-time campaign donor a do-over drew a curt response from Stearns County District Court Judge William Cashman, who deemed the personal contact inappropriate. Newberger declined to discuss his advocacy when The Associated Press approached him Thursday, describing it as a private matter that he was surprised to see become public.READ MORE: Kim Potter's Trial In Daunte Wright's Death Begins Wednesday: Here's How To Watch
The Becker Republican did, however, issue a statement Friday defending his action on behalf of Jeff Friedrich, president of CarCo Automotive Inc. based in Rice.
“As a legislator, I will always be a tireless advocate for my constituents in Sherburne and Benton Counties,” Newberger said in the statement. “In this instance, once I learned of a judicial rule barring my correspondence on behalf of a constituent, I respected it.”
Newberger’s letter to the judge was a last-ditch attempt by Friedrich to reopen the lawsuit filed by another central Minnesota business, Finken Water Inc.
Finken sued CarCo in 2015 over claims that two water delivery trucks it ordered weren’t delivered in their promised condition. After CarCo filed counterclaims of breach of contract, the two companies tried but failed to solve their dispute through mediation. When Finken asked Cashman in September to rule, nobody representing CarCo showed up at the hearing. Cashman issued a $241,986 judgment against CarCo in early October. Friedrich petitioned for a rehearing, which was denied on Nov. 30.
Friedrich said Friday he approached Newberger about his situation after that. Campaign finance records show Friedrich and his wife, June, contributed $250 each to Newberger in 2014, a year when the per-donor maximum was $1,000.
“I didn’t know who else to communicate with. I thought maybe he was in a situation to help me out,” Friedrich said. “I turned to him for assistance because he is a decent guy and has common sense.”READ MORE: Suni Lee Named Sports Illustrated's Female Athlete Of The Year
In mid-December, Newberger wrote Cashman on official House letterhead appealing for reconsideration. Newberger, a paramedic, is a member of the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the judicial branch budget.
“I understand that mistakes were made and that Mr. Friedrich could have dealt with this issue in a better manner. However, I see this as an opportunity for you to show grace in this situation and allow him time before your bench,” Newberger wrote. “A judgment of this amount will cause a major hardship to the CarCo Company, one of the Rice area’s biggest employers.”
Cashman replied that he didn’t realize the nature of the letter when it appeared as an email attachment from Newberger. The judge said had he known it pertained to a case before him, he would have returned it unread. He put the letter in the public case file and notified attorneys in the case.
“Representative Newberger, since it is against the Rules of Judicial Conduct for me to consider ex parte communications, I am respectfully requesting that you not send me any further correspondence regarding this matter,” Cashman wrote back.
Timothy Peters, who represented the water delivery company, said he was stunned by Newberger’s attempt at influence but believes the judge took the proper steps to deal with it.
“In 20 years of practicing law I had never seen anything like this,” Peters said. “He should have known better. A legislator should know the constitution, should know there is a separation of powers, should know that he shouldn’t have ex parte communications with a judge who is overseeing a case.”
The window for possible appeals in the case has closed. Finken has received $150,000 of the judgment through a bond CarCo had posted, leaving about $91,500 outstanding.MORE NEWS: Timeline: Daunte Wright's Death, Subsequent Unrest Leading Up To The Kim Potter Trial
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