When Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed Sam Hanson to the state's highest court in 2002, Ventura called him a pillar of integrity and vision.
Hanson, 68, is two years shy of the mandatory retirement age of 70. He says he wants to keep working past 70, and so he began exploring his options about how to transition back to private practice. He said working at his former law firm, Briggs and Morgan became a logical choice.
"They persuaded me there would be good reasons to come sooner rather than later. There are projects there that I could add value to, and my presence will help draw to the firm if I'm there," said Hanson. "When you say you want to go back to the practice, you want a practice to go back to."
“When you say you want to go back to the [law] practice, you want a practice to go back to."Retiring Justice Sam Hanson
Hanson says he would also like to work as a mediator. Hanson says he's loved serving as justice and will miss the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Perhaps his best-known ruling came last April, when he wrote the majority opinion in a case that ended a Minneapolis program that allowed police to ticket car owners whose vehicles were caught on camera running red lights.
In his written opinion, Hanson said PhotoCop conflicted with a statute requiring uniform traffic rules statewide and put too heavy a burden on car owners.
The court decides cases from the Court of Appeals, Tax Court and Worker's Compensation Court. The justices also consider all first-degree murder convictions, and they regulate the court system as a whole.
Hanson came to the high court after serving two years on the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Before that, he worked for 34 years in private practice.
William Mitchell law professor and Minnesota Supreme Court expert Peter Knapp says Hanson will be sorely missed. Knapp says Hanson brought substantial experience in corporate law to the court.
"He worked with utility companies, worked in a wide variety of commercial litigation and employment law settings, and had a very good broad familiarity with the law," said Knapp. "And that, coupled with his experience on the court of appeals, I think made him well-suited for the Minnesota Supreme Court."
Hanson's term would not have ended until 2009, leaving some critics to question whether Hanson left early to ensure that Gov. Pawlenty would appoint the next justice.
Hanson says his decision would have been the same regardless of who occupied the governor's office. He's leaving at a time, however, when he says Minnesota's court system is facing serious challenges in the future.
"The issue of access to justice for low-income people, are there legal services available for large immigrant populations facing language barriers and so forth," Hanson said. "I think there's much that's going to challenge us on being sure that justice is available to everybody, not just those who can afford it."
With Hanson's departure, Gov. Pawlenty will make his third appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Pawlenty appointed G. Barry Anderson in 2004 and Lorie Gildea in 2006. He also elevated Russell Anderson to chief justice in 2006. The governor typically selects a new justice from several recommendations by the judicial selection commission.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)