On Friday, April 26, 2024, the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to appoint a three-person panel to conduct a public hearing regarding the actions of District Court Judge John P. Dehen. The board filed a complaint against Judge Dehen stemming from incidents in September and October 2023 where he sought to rehire his former court reporter, Lisha Shufelt, at the top of the salary pay range.

According to the complaint, after Ms. Shufelt resigned, Judge Dehen directed the 10th Judicial District Court administrator Sarah Lindahl-Pfieffer to rehire her at Step 11, the highest salary level, though the administrator informed him of a human resources policy requiring recently separated employees to be rehired at their previous pay rate. On September 20th, Judge Dehen initiated a district court proceeding and assigned it to himself. On the same day, he issued an order appointing Ms. Shufelt as his official court reporter and a writ commanding the administrator to pay her at Step 11.

The administrator appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which stayed Judge Dehen’s order. On October 24th, the appeals court issued a writ of prohibition vacating the order and writ, noting Judge Dehen had identified no authority allowing him to overrule the administrator’s decision. A week later, Judge Dehen again issued an order and writ of mandamus requiring the administrator to respond and rehire Ms. Shufelt at Step 6. He filed these documents in a closed court file. The appeals court issued a second writ of prohibition in November vacating these orders as well, stating Judge Dehen had circumvented consideration in an adversary proceeding before an impartial court.

The complaint alleges Judge Dehen had a clear conflict of interest in the cases involving Ms. Shufelt’s hiring and pay as he both initiated the proceedings and decided the matters. It also asserts he failed to recuse himself despite acknowledging a beneficial interest in the outcome. The board contends Judge Dehen’s actions suggested representing Ms. Shufelt’s interests and engaging in the prohibited practice of law while a judge.

In his April 16th response, Judge Dehen denied violating any judicial conduct rules. He claimed human resources did not provide the policy in question and refused to consult on his requested hire. Judge Dehen also denied assigning anything to himself, calling it a matter of first impression involving a court’s inherent power to maintain its operations. While acknowledging a right to appoint a competent court reporter, Judge Dehen denied having a beneficial interest beyond allowing the court to function.

Previously, Judge Dehen received a private admonishment related to suing two individuals in conciliation court for misleading him in a Facebook marketplace chair purchase. In a 2021 letter, he identified himself as a district court judge who had presided over similar cases. If appointed, the three-person panel will determine whether to dismiss the complaint or recommend the Supreme Court issue an order for censure, suspension, or other sanction against Judge Dehen.

Judge Dehen‘s courtroom is located at Anoka County Courthouse, 2100 3rd Ave., Anoka, MN 55303-2489, and can be reached at (763) 760-6700.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.