Minnesota Court of Appeals Chief Judge Edward J. Cleary will retire from the court on April 30, 2020, as the second-longest-serving chief in the history of the Court of Appeals. In a statement released on the day he joined chef judges from across the country in Denver for the Council of Chief Judges education conference, Cleary declared:

“It has been a great honor for me to serve the citizens of Minnesota as a member of the judiciary these past 17 years. My years as chief judge of the Court of Appeals will be among my fondest memories, thanks to my colleagues and the outstanding support staff here at the court. I look forward to joining my wife in retirement in the spring of 2020, as we get our chance to relax and travel, and perhaps I will return to writing and teaching as well.”

Cleary practiced law in St. Paul, his hometown, from 1977 to 1997, serving as a Ramsey County public defender from 1980 to 1995. In that capacity he successfully argued the case of RAV v. City of St. Paul before the United States Supreme Court in 1991, winning a unanimous decision described by the New York Times as “a decision of landmark dimension, a declaration in favor of more speech rather than less.” Cleary wrote an award-winning book on the case, “Beyond the Burning Cross: the First Amendment and the landmark R.A.V. case,” published by Random House, in 1994.


Cleary served as the director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility from 1997 to 2002, when he was appointed by Gov. Jesse Ventura to serve as a District Court judge in the 2nd Judicial District. As assistant chief judge of the 2nd Judicial District, he served on the Canvassing Board, which determined the outcome of the 2008 U.S. Senate election between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. Cleary served as a District Court judge until he was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2011. Dayton later appointed him chief judge in 2013, and again in 2016.In addition to his judicial duties, Cleary was an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, his alma mater, from 2000 to 2011.

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