An unusual judicial race is shaping up in Stillwater.
Washington County District Court Judge Thomas Armstrong was up for re-election this year, and he filed to run again. But his law clerk, Dawn Hennessy, filed for election as well, setting up an unusual race pitting a lawyer against her boss.
But after the filing closed this week, Armstrong withdrew his name from the ballot, leaving his clerk potentially to run unopposed on the November ballot and succeed Armstrong without input from voters or Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who appoints judges to vacant seats.
Now, Hennessy has withdrawn her candidacy as well.
Neither Armstrong or Hennessey returned a phone call seeking comment.
But in an email to Minnesota Public Radio, Hennessy said Thursday night that she had never intended to circumvent the elections process. She said she filed for election "with the most honest and honorable intentions... I knew the job, I knew the files and I wasn't thinking anything dishonest." She said she thought she would have made a good judge.
She said in her email that she withdrew after consulting with another judge in the district about the matter.
That leaves the seat in the 10th Judicial District without a candidate.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the office is back open for filing through Thursday, June 10, under a provision in the law that allows an extra week under certain circumstances.
But he said the law isn't designed to deal with situations like the one in Washington County, and he said he'll encourage the Legislature to clarify things.
"We can't prevent accidents or things that are tragedies," Ritchie said. "But we need to make sure our laws are clear so we know exactly what should happen in an emergency or just a decision by someone to change their direction."
A St. Paul city council election turned out similarly in 2003, when the incumbent died between the September primary and the general election. Five candidates wound up running in that race in November.
Several elections experts said they didn't know when Minnesota last had a judicial election without any candidates listed on the ballot -- if ever.