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

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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.

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