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Embattled incumbent Cahill wins judicial primary, Kohler second

Steven Cahill1 / 2
Kenneth Kohler2 / 2

With 497 of 497 precincts reporting, Steven Cahill led with about 40 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results. He was followed by Kenneth Kohler with 25 percent, Cheryl Duysen with 22 percent, and Terry Graff with 13 percent.

Once official, Cahill and Kohler, a former interim Clay County attorney, will face off in the Nov. 4 general election.

Contested judicial elections are uncommon in Minnesota. Out of almost 120 judgeships on the ballot this fall, just nine are contested and only three required a primary.

The four-way race for the 7th District Court, which includes Clay County, comes four months after the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards issued an eight-page public reprimand of Cahill, citing his “widespread pattern of misconduct” including rogue legal decisions and chronic tardiness.

“I think a lot of people approve of what I’ve done and the way I conducted myself, notwithstanding the reprimand that the other candidates are trying to make a big deal of,” Cahill said in an interview late Tuesday.

Graff, a sole practitioner attorney in Moorhead, said he ran because “the voters deserved a choice when the incumbent judge had been reprimanded for improprieties.”

Cahill said some of his judgments “may have been a technical violation of the code, but it was in my view the right thing to do.”

“Every once in a while you find a situation where the law as written is just not fair, and in those situations you have to make a hard choice,” he said.

“You do the right thing and get reprimanded,” he added.

Cahill admitted that his chronic tardiness was an issue, and now he doesn’t have “that third coffee in the morning.”

Kohler will face Cahill on Nov. 4. 

“We knew the incumbent would carry a lot of the vote, just based on the district, the incumbency,” Kohler said late Tuesday as Duysen, an assistant attorney for Clay County, closely trailed him.

Kohler served two terms as Nobles County attorney and was appointed interim Clay County attorney in 2006 to finish out the term of Lisa Borgen. Since then, he has specialized in criminal defense law at the Vogel Law Firm.

Duysen, a close third, clerked for a judge and worked as a public defender in the 7th District before joining the Clay County Attorney’s Office.

By Wednesday morning with all precincts reporting, Cahill had 13,593 votes. Kohler followed with 8,347 votes, Duysen with 7,478 and Graff with 4,356.

Cahill was confident as votes from the final precincts trickled in.

“Frankly, I thought my lead might be a little bit larger,” he said.

Cahill, who was elected in 2008 after being appointed to the position in 2006 by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said he will tweak his campaign ahead of the general election based on how well he fared in each county.

The 7th District has 28 judgeships. Judges serve six-year terms and make $138,318 annually.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Adrian Glass-Moore at (701) 241-5599

Adrian Glass-Moore

Readers are encouraged to reach Adrian Glass-Moore at (701) 241-5599 or with comments, criticisms and tips. He joined The Forum as its night reporter in 2014.