Former judge to mediate Dayton, Legislature dispute

Updated at 3 p.m.. with comments from Dayton

Retired Hennepin County Judge Rick Solum will mediate the budget dispute between the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton that resulted from Dayton’s line-item vetoes of funding for the House and Senate.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ratified the selection of Solum on Tuesday. Last week, the court ordered the case into mediation before it issues a final decision in the lawsuit filed by the Legislature this summer. Lawmakers sued after Dayton’s veto, saying he breached separation of powers with the action. A lower court sided with the Legislature and nullified the veto.

Solum said he expects the mediation to commence next week but said nothing has been set.

There is time pressure for the mediation because a temporary funding agreement for the Legislature runs out in October. After that, the Legislature will have to exhaust reserves, lay off staff and potentially withhold paychecks. The Supreme Court wants an update on the progress of mediation by Sept. 30.

Solum said in general he sees his mediator role as talking with each side separately and shuttling between the sides to explore a possible agreement.

“If they can, terrific,” Solum said. “If they don’t, there is no compulsion involved in the mediation process. It is an entirely nonbinding process.”

Appointed a judge in 1992 under then Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, Solum retired from the bench almost two decades ago and returned to private practice. Records show he has contributed previously to Dayton’s political campaigns and to Supreme Court justices whom Dayton appointed. But he has also signed a letter of support for Justice David Stras’ nomination to the Court of Appeals by Republican President Donald Trump.

“Both lawyers know me well, and both of them know I call things as I see ’em,” Solum said. “My political affiliation I assume was relevant to the parties when they were making this selection. But it doesn’t influence me at all. My mind’s single is to try to see if I can mediate a resolution that is satisfactory to both sides.”

Solum said he doesn’t see himself as affiliated with either party. “I have probably had more contributions to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party,” he said. “I have had issues with both from time to time. … Those leanings don’t impact me at all. Anyone who knows me probably understands that.”

Dayton said he doesn’t know Solum personally but came highly recommended by lawyers from both parties to the case.

Solum is no stranger to high-profile cases.

Solum had a role in mediating a dispute around a new stadium for the Twins. And he arbitrated a case involving fired University of Minnesota basketball coach Clem Haskins. He was also had a role in sorting out an early controversy in then Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration.

Given that the parties involved here are both government entities, there will be intense interest in knowing what was discussed. But Solum said he expects the conversations will remain confidential, as is the custom with mediation.

“Anything beyond strict confidence will really be up to the parties,” Solum said. “While the mediation is progressing, typically there would be concern that public following of a mediation while it is occurring is probably counterproductive to the success of the process for obvious reasons. With respect to what happens at the end, obviously if there is a settlement that would be known to everybody. If there is not a settlement, what kind of disclosure there would be about the process would be up to the parties.”

Dayton said he would follow the instructions of the mediator and didn’t know what kind of paper trail would be kept or released.

In the meantime, the legal expenses footed by the public will continue to mount.

“Yeah this is costly but yet another reason why we need to get it resolved quickly,” Dayton said Tuesday. “My goal is to get this matter resolved through mediation and get it resolved as quickly as possible and both sides have to agree to that resolution.”