Skip to main content

Dayton appoints Human Services head, U of M attorney, to Appeals Court


Gov. Mark Dayton has named the head of Minnesota’s Department of Human Services and one of the University of Minnesota's top litigators to fill vacancies on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Dayton’s office announced Friday.

Lucinda Jesson has led DHS, the state’s largest department, since 2011, and Smith has been at the U for the past 21 years. 

The two vacancies were created when Judge Natalie Hudson was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and Judge John Smith announced his retirement effective in early February.

Both women are former prosecutors and both worked in the Minnesota Attorney General's office, the Star Tribune reports.

More about Lucinda Jesson

Jesson has served with Dayton from the beginning of his tenure as governor, and she is one of his closest advisers. Dayton will need to find a new commissioner to run Human Services, a large and complex state agency with a $36 billion budget, 6,200 state employees, and state programs serving more than 1 million Minnesotans. 

Jesson has been at the forefront of several controversial issues of late, most notably the legal challenge to the state’s sex offender treatment program, which a judge has ruled unconstitutional.

In a statement, Dayton praised Jesson's leadership of the Human Services Department, saying she has done a "superb" job. "I am certain she will bring the same measure of excellence to the Minnesota Court of Appeals as she has demonstrated during her service at the Department of Human Services.”

Jesson's last day in her current position will be Monday, according to the Star Tribune. Deputy Commissioner Chuck Johnson will run the department until Dayton chooses Jesson's successor.

“Public service has been the cornerstone of my career," Jesson said. “I am grateful for this new opportunity to serve the people of Minnesota.”

More about Tracy Smith

In her current role, Smith represents the U of M in a wide range of legal issues including employment law, constitutional law, antitrust and business tort claims, according to the governor's office. Prior to that, she worked in the Attorney General's office where she handled consumer fraud and antitrust cases as well as criminal appeals.

Dayton said Smith's experience managing an "impressive variety of complex legal issues" have prepared her to be a successful judge on the Court of Appeals.

"Service on the court of appeals is a great privilege,” said Smith. “I am honored to have the opportunity and mindful of the solemn obligation all judges have to the people they serve.

Next Up

Kirill Kaprizov

2nd period surge leads Wild to fourth straight win

With three goals in the second, the Wild blasted the last-place Coyotes.

Gopher Basketball / R.J. Stephens

Late-tip in helps Gophers pass first big test, improve to 6-0

Luke Loewe's bucket with 2.4 seconds remaining helped the Gophers stay undefeated.


Man, 40, found dead stuck in air duct at his Otter Tail Co. home

The discovery was made by family members Monday morning.

Biden Minnesota visit stream screengrab - 11.30.31

What Biden said during his visit to Minnesota Tuesday

The president spoke at Dakota County Technical College.

Grand Marais

Cook County registers its first COVID-19 death of the pandemic

The sparsely populated, highly-vaccinated county has continuously had one of the lowest rates of COVID in the state.

Waits family screengrab CNN

Support for MN family after anti-maskers target child of school board chair

An online group opposing Kelsey Waits outed the child as transgender.

Pixabay - school - classroom

St. Paul schools add 2 days to winter break due to pandemic stress

The added days off are meant to acknowledge the stress the pandemic has caused.

Fardoussa Abdillahi

Charges: St. Cloud mother killed baby, placed him in dumpster

The 4-month-old baby was found by officers on Sunday morning.


1 dead in crash at Lake Street intersection in south Minneapolis

There have been 465 deaths on Minnesota roads this year, according to the state's traffic division.


St. Paul restaurateur's businesses burglarized a 6th time

The owner of The Gnome and Hope Breakfast Bar is asking politicians to help St. Paul business owners.

North Memorial Air Care

Teen suffers life-threatening injuries in head-on crash in southern MN

The 18-year-old was airlifted to a Mayo Clinic hospital in Rochester.

foo fighters grohl mr rossi wikimedia

Foo Fighters abruptly cancel Gophers stadium show hours after announcing it

The band is looking for a new venue because of a disagreement over COVID protocols.