In Ramsey County, challengers file to unseat two sitting judges

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Appointed to the bench in 2016, Judge Timothy Mulrooney has overseen a wide variety of cases in Ramsey County District Court, where he specializes in civil commitments for the mentally ill.

Judge Timothy T. Mulrooney. (Courtesy photo)

Mulrooney, a former family court referee, co-chairs the Second Judicial District’s Mental Health Gap workgroup and is one of two judges in charge of the judicial district’s treatment courts, which devote extra time and specialized services to criminal defendants struggling with severe mental illness and chemical addiction.

Mulrooney will be on the election ballot in November, as will his challenger Cheeyein “Winona” Yang. Yang graduated from Mitchell Hamline School of Law in 2021 and was accepted to the Minnesota State Bar that December. She currently serves as a legislative aide to Ramsey County Commissioner Mai Chong Xiong, the first Hmong county board member in Ramsey County.

What she lacks in trial court experience, she believes she makes up for in community focus.

“Our judicial branch is subject to be complicit to systems that may perpetuate systemic injustices against our poor, BlPOC, LGBTQI+, elders, and our children,” writes Winona Yang on her campaign website, where she describes herself as a longstanding community organizer. “Bring the judiciary to the community.”

Cheeyein “Winona” Yang speaks to prospective voters at the Grand Old Day celebration on Grand Avenue on June 2, 2024. (Frederick Melo / Pioneer Press)

Judicial elections can be sleepy affairs, but the match-up between an experienced sitting judge and a new attorney with strong political and ethnic ties courting popular appeal has caused a quiet stir within the courtrooms of the Second Judicial District, which spans Ramsey County. Most states require 10 years of legal practice before allowing a person to become judge, though Minnesota has no such requirement.

Filings for judicial offices closed Tuesday. Ramsey County voters will be presented with two judicial races this November, when voter turnout is expected to be heavy as a result of the U.S. presidential election.

Judge Timothy Carey, who was appointed to the bench by Gov. Tim Walz in April 2022, faces challenger Paul Yang, an attorney in private practice who shares a similar name with Judge P. Paul Yang, who has served since 2019. The name overlap has raised some concerns in legal circles about the possibility of voter confusion.

Judge Tim Carey. (Courtesy of the Office of Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan)

Carey, a former probation officer and prosecutor specializing in civil commitment proceedings, is one of three judges on the district’s first-ever Behavioral Health Team, which sits within the district’s civil division. He also oversees cases involving military veterans through a specialized Veteran’s Treatment Court and hears criminal cases, especially those involving defendants who may be deemed incompetent to stand trial.

Paul Yang — the candidate, not the judge — writes on his campaign website that he has “15+ years combined legal and community experience” and “a passion for public service.” Few other details are listed. He was admitted to the Minnesota State Bar in 2012.

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