Lehmann adjourns last South St. Paul council meeting to start judgeship

Chris Lehmann

South St. Paul council member Chris Lehmann says a few words at his last council meeting Oct. 6. He has been selected as a district court judge, and had to resign from the elected position that he's held since 2003. Right, council member Tom Seaberg. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Chris Lehmann wasn't always set on being a judge.

But he eventually realized his skills lined up with the job requirements.

"I felt I would be a good fit," he said in a recent interview. "Public service is an important thing for me."

He applied for the judgeship — twice, once last summer and once this spring. The second time, after interviews with a selection committee and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, the governor appointed Lehmann to be a district court judge in the state's first judicial district, which captures Carver, Dakota, Goodhue, Le Sueur, McLeod, Scott and Sibley counties.

"It's amazing that I've been selected and will have the opportunity to serve as a judge," Lehmann said.

Needs to leave behind affiliations

Lehmann was the one to move to adjourn his last South St. Paul City Council meeting Monday, Oct. 6. He had to resign after more than a decade in the elected spot, in order to accept the judgeship, and will also be required to discontinue his involvement with the South Metro Fire Department Joint Powers Board, the Dakota County Bar Association, as well as other community ties, because of the demands of his new role to remain impartial.

While he'll miss his long-time service positions, he said, he sees his judgeship as an expansion of them.

"I really see this as a a greater opportunity to serve in terms of my community and the county and the entire state," Lehmann said.

There were two judgeships open at the Dakota County seat in Hastings: those of the Hon. Richard Spicer and the Hon. Robert King Jr. Lehmann and Cynthia McCollum were appointed to those districts.

Lehmann, a partner at Grannis & Lehmann, P.A., runs a practice that covers estate planning, wills and probate matters, as well as real estate transactions and family law. He's served as an assistant public defender for the first judicial district and is a past assistant city attorney for the city of St. Paul. He earned his doctorate at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.

The guy who said 'Wait — let's think about this'

Lehmann, who has lived in South St. Paul for "pretty much" his entire life, started his time on the council in 2003. He's particularly proud of his work in the effort to combine the South St. Paul and West St. Paul fire departments into the South Metro Fire Department.

"It was a project that I started on right in 2003, and many felt that it was a very contentious issue and many felt it couldn't be done without a lot of contention and bad feelings," he said. "I was proud that both councils passed the resolution unanimously to consolidate the unions, supported the consolidation, and that it was a collaboration where we worked with everyone and put something together that I truly believe is better than it was before."

During his last meeting, the council accepted his resignation and took time to share memories and good wishes.

Council member Tom Seaberg said the council will miss Lehmann's ability to dig into complex issues and suss out potential questions.

"The county justice systems will gain that wisdom," he said.

As Marilyn Rothecker put it, Lehmann is known to delve deeply into issues and arrives at meetings with his research and discussion ideas already jotted down in the margins of his council packet.

"You know he's done his homework," she said.

Beth Baumann has served as mayor since Lehmann was elected. She said she would seek counsel from him, because he's "thoughtful and deliberative."

He was the guy to say, "'Wait a minute — (let's) think about this," she said.

Lehmann also said a few words, pointing out his two children were 2 years old at his first meeting, and will be 14 next month.

Invoking the words of past Minnesota Gov. Harold LeVander, who raised his children and ran a law firm in South St. Paul, Lehmann encouraged the public to get involved and find a way to serve:

"To succeed, serve," he said.

According to city staff, the council plans to approve the procedure to replace Lehmann Oct. 20, in time for the selection process to begin Dec. 1, as directed by city charter. Because the vacancy occurred after the first day to file affidavits of candicacy for the November election, a special election was not required to fill Lehmann's spot.

Lehmann praised the council for its ability to work together and remain professional, even when individual members didn't agree.

"I really liked my time on there," he said. "I will miss it."

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.


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