Walz’s supreme court pick says he will recuse himself from cases involving former clients
Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Natalie Hudson and Karl Procaccini listen to Gov. Tim Walz speak at the Capitol on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer
Karl Procaccini, Gov. Tim Walz’s former general counsel and appointee to the Minnesota Supreme Court, said he will recuse himself from cases that involve his former clients, which include PolyMet, 3M and Flint Hills Resources — a subsidiary of Koch Industries.
“Every judge needs to take that responsibility seriously,” Procaccini said during a Wednesday news conference. “Certainly, any case where I acted as a lawyer for a client that comes before the Supreme Court would be one that I need to recuse.”
Prior to working as Walz’s general counsel, Procaccini was a partner for the law firm Greene Espel, which also employed Walz’s chief of staff Chris Schmitter.
As Walz’s general counsel, Procaccini led the legal team that drafted the governor’s executive orders. There is currently one ongoing case which could reach the state Supreme Court regarding one of Walz’s executive orders, according to the governor’s office.
In terms of any potential loyalty to Walz because of his past employment, Procaccini said he will leave behind any interests he’s had in the past.
“A mentor once told me … when a judge raises their right hand and takes that oath of office, they are swearing their loyalty to the people of Minnesota, the Constitution of Minnesota, the laws of Minnesota,” he said.
All Minnesota justices, including those on the Supreme Court, must abide by the Code of Judicial Conduct. These rules state that a justice must do their job without bias or prejudice, and that the “duties of judicial office, as prescribed by law, shall take precedence over all of a judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities.”
In 2015, Procaccini was an attorney for 3M in an improper disclosure of trade secrets case. 3M said one of its former employees gave trade secrets to its competitors regarding 3M’s nonwoven abrasive products.
In 2017, Procaccini represented PolyMet in a dispute over its land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service. PolyMet received 6,650 acres of federal land, and environmental groups sued, arguing that the land the Forest Service received in return wasn’t of equal value.
Earlier this month, the Minnesota Supreme Court dealt a serious setback to the long-planned PolyMet mine project, directing the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to reopen the permitting process.
The environmental advocacy group Friends of the Boundary Waters said in a statement it was concerned about Procaccini’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
“Appointing PolyMet’s former lawyer to the highest court in Minnesota, just weeks after the mine lost a unanimous decision before that very court, raises serious questions,” Friends of the Boundary Waters Executive Director Chris Knopf said in a statement. “To reassure concerned citizens, we hope Procaccini will remove any appearance of impropriety by recusing himself from all matters related to copper-nickel sulfide mining that may come before the court in the future.”
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