Why a judge didn’t live in the district he served

The Minnesota Supreme Court today removed a judge from a district court after it found that he had violated the rules that require a judge to live in the district in which he serves. From January to June of last year, he lived outside of Anoka.

Filing an affadavit that you know is wrong is a pretty serious breach for people in the law; there’s no question about that. If the judges are in the business of lying, what good is the system?

On the other hand, if you’ve ever been father of a troubled kid, you might have a different opinion from the one you’ll get from the headlines. That doesn’t excuse anything, but it does explain some of it.

The Supreme Court’s ruling today (pdf) has all of the details. Most of them aren’t going to make the news.

Judge Pendleton is married, and his wife resides in Minnetonka. The couple married in September 2007, and except for a brief period in 2008, they maintained separate residences until November 2013. Judge Pendleton was previously married, and he and his former wife have three sons.

Beginning in 2012, Judge Pendleton lived in a townhouse in Anoka. In 2013 he decided to sell the Anoka townhouse, primarily for financial reasons. He listed the townhouse for sale in October 2013 and soon had a buyer. The sale closed on November 27, 2013.

On November 27, 2013, Judge Pendleton moved out of the Anoka townhouse and began staying at his wife’s house in Minnetonka, which is in the Fourth Judicial District.

Judge Pendleton moved the items from his Anoka townhouse into a storage unit in Hopkins, which is also in the Fourth Judicial District. He told someone from the moving company that he intended to find a new apartment in Anoka quickly, and that he would soon call the company to move his items back to Anoka. The billing invoice from the company that moved Judge Pendleton’s furniture reflects this conversation. But Judge Pendleton did not contact the company soon after he moved. Rather, he stayed at his wife’s house until August 1, 2014.

From late November 2013 through December 20, 2013, Judge Pendleton looked for an apartment in Anoka. He was on vacation from December 20, 2013, through January 6, 2014. When Judge Pendleton returned, he was out sick from work for several days. He returned to work on Monday, January 13, 2014. On January 15, 2014, Judge Pendleton learned that his son had been caught with drugs and drug paraphernalia at school in Anoka, and that his grades had dropped dramatically. Judge Pendleton met with representatives of his son’s school and sought drug treatment and tutoring for his son.

By the end of January, Judge Pendleton’s son was enrolled in drug counseling and intensive tutoring. Judge Pendleton spent several evenings a week, taking his son to dinner and then to either treatment or tutoring. Judge Pendleton and his former wife discussed the possibility of moving their son from the Anoka school to a school in Andover. In order for their son to attend school in Andover, one parent would need to relocate to the attendance area for that school.

Judge Pendleton and his former wife agreed to defer the decision on changing schools until they could evaluate how their son was doing in treatment and at school, but they did not set a deadline for making that decision. Judge Pendleton made no attempt to find housing in the Tenth Judicial District from mid-January 2014 through the end of May 2014. Judge Pendleton admitted that he made a “choice” not to search for new housing in the Tenth Judicial District while the issues with his son were unresolved. He acknowledged that he could have found housing in the Andover attendance area, which would have preserved both school options for his son because his former wife lived in the Anoka attendance area, but he thought that was not a “good option” because it would have made no sense for him to live in Andover if his son went to school in Anoka. He also testified that he did not explore the possibility of a short-term lease in his judicial district because he was “focus[ed] on [his] son” and “did not know how long th[e] process [would] take” “[w]hen [he] put the search on hold.”

On May 22, 2014, Judge Pendleton completed an affidavit of candidacy for the November 2014 election. The affidavit includes a space for the candidate to list his or her “residence address,” but it also indicates that “[a]ll address and contact information is optional for” judicial candidates. Judge Pendleton listed on the affidavit of candidacy the address for the Anoka townhouse that he sold in November 2013, even though he had not lived there since the sale.

Judge Pendleton admitted that at the time he filled out the affidavit of candidacy, he “knew that that was not an accurate statement.” He testified that he was “in a rush” when he filled out the affidavit of candidacy because he had to get back for court and that it was “a spontaneous, split-second decision” to list his previous, Anoka County, address. He further testified that he “was not thinking of my wife’s home as my home or my address or my residence.” Judge Pendleton admitted that using the wrong address was an “error of judgment” and “created an appearance of impropriety,” but he denied any “intent to deceive the electorate.”

On June 2, 2014, there was an incident at Judge Pendleton’s current wife’s house between one of his other sons and one of his stepdaughters. The police were called. As a result of this incident, Judge Pendleton testified his former wife stopped talking to him. That decision caused Judge Pendleton to believe that his son who attended school in Anoka would not be transferring schools.

Judge Pendleton resumed his search for housing in the Tenth Judicial District after the June 2 incident. On June 6, 2014, he talked to the manager of an apartment building in Ramsey and decided to rent a unit that would be available August 1, 2014. Judge Pendleton viewed the apartment on July 5, 2014. That same day, he filled out a rental application. On July 7, 2014, he paid the deposit and signed the lease, and then he moved in on August 1, 2014.

In addition to this evidence regarding Judge Pendleton’s residence, the Board also introduced evidence regarding Judge Pendleton’s efforts to explain his residential situation. Specifically, Judge Pendleton had communicated with David Paull, who was the Executive Secretary for the Board at the time, and judges and administrators in his district regarding his residency. In August 2005, after he had separated from his former wife, Judge Pendleton told Paull of his impending divorce and his intent to live with or marry his current wife, who was then living outside the Tenth Judicial District, when his divorce became final. He sought advice on handling his residency obligation. Paull informed him that other judges in similar situations had maintained a residence in their district of election.

In November 2010, Judge Pendleton contacted Paull after receiving a phone call from Judge Patricia Karasov, whose judicial disciplinary proceeding for residing outside of her judicial district was pending. During this call, Judge Karasov accused Judge Pendleton of living outside of his district. Paull told Judge Pendleton that his situation was different from Judge Karasov’s because he owned a home in his judicial district and stayed there during the week, while Judge Karasov had rented out her house in her judicial district.

That same month, Judge Pendleton sent an e-mail to the other judges and some court administrators in his judicial district to address what he referred to as a “persistent rumor that I do not reside in the district.” He disclosed that his wife and her daughters lived in Minnetonka and that he owned a townhouse in Blaine. He also said that he “ha[d] provided full disclosure to the Minnesota Board of [sic] Judicial Standards” and that he was in “full compliance with all residency requirements.”

While he was staying at his wife’s house in Minnetonka in 2013-2014, Judge Pendleton did not disclose his changed living situation to Paull or the successor Executive Secretary of the Board. He told a few judges that his son was having drug problems, but he did not tell any of them that he was staying in Minnetonka. Judge Pendleton told only his court reporter and law clerk where he was staying.

The Tenth Judicial District maintains a confidential directory of addresses and telephone numbers of judges. Approximately three to four times per year, an e-mail is sent to judges asking them to update their information in this directory. There is no requirement that judges provide this information.

On April 2, 2012, Judge Pendleton notified the Tenth Judicial District Administrator (the Court Administrator) that he had “moved over the weekend” and provided him with the address of his Anoka townhouse. After this date, the confidential directory listed the Anoka townhouse as Judge Pendleton’s address. Between November 2013 and August 2014, Judge Pendleton did not inform the Court Administrator that he was living in Minnetonka, despite receiving requests for updated information for the directory on December 31, 2013, March 31, 2014, and July 14, 2014. Without having received a request for an updated address, Judge Pendleton sent the Court Administrator an e-mail on August 7, 2014, stating that the address for his Ramsey apartment was his new address as of August 1. On October 1, 2014, Judge Pendleton received the quarterly e-mail with the directory, which continued to list the Anoka townhouse as his address. Within minutes of receiving this e-mail, Judge Pendleton replied that his address was wrong and provided the address for the Ramsey apartment.

Judge Pendleton testified that he considered himself to be a resident of the Tenth Judicial District since 1995. He has voted in Anoka County for the past 20 years. Judge Pendleton also banked, had his car repaired, had his prescriptions filled, and saw a doctor in Anoka. After he and his current wife were married, Judge Pendleton received mail at a post office box outside the Tenth Judicial District that his wife had established for her business. After he purchased his Anoka townhouse, Judge Pendleton listed his Anoka townhouse as the address on his driver’s license until August 2014, when he changed the address to his Ramsey apartment.