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Minnesota Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, pictured in this Jan. 14, 2009, file photo as he sought funding for courts. On Thursday, he announced his plans to leave the state's highest court effective June 30 after serving since 2008. "I have found the position to be both challenging and rewarding. However, for reasons personal to me and my family, I have decided to step down and return to private practice," he said in announcing his resignation. State Capitol Bureau file photo

Magnuson stepping down as chief justice

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ST. PAUL -- Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, who helped oversee a U.S. Senate recount and argued against massive budget cuts, will leave office June 30 after two years on Minnesota's highest court.

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His announcement Thursday came just days before the Minnesota Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case challenging Gov. Tim Pawlenty's authority to unilaterally cut the state budget.

Magnuson was unavailable for comment but in a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who appointed him in March 2008, he cited personal reasons for stepping down.

"It has been my privilege to serve as chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court for the past two years," Magnuson wrote. "I have found the position to be both challenging and rewarding. However, for reasons personal to me and my family, I have decided to step down and return to private practice."

Pawlenty thanked Magnuson for his service.

"Leading Minnesota's judicial system and heading our highest court is an extremely important and tough job," Pawlenty said in a statement. "Chief Justice Magnuson has served in this role over the past two years with great diligence, thoughtfulness and fairness."

The chief justice leads the Supreme Court and, in essence, runs the state's judiciary.

Magnuson and Pawlenty worked together as partners at now defunct Rider Bennett. He was Pawlenty's fourth selection to the Supreme Court. But during his tenure, Magnuson disagreed with Pawlenty over proposed cuts to the judicial budget.

"He's done that in a very neutral, professional manner even though it had some potential cost for him," said Eric Janus, dean of the William Mitchell College of Law where Magnuson received his degree. "That really showed he is a person of extremely high integrity and principle."

Before joining the court, Magnuson worked at Briggs and Morgan in Minneapolis. He has no agreement in place to return, though Alan Maclin, president of the firm, said he would be honored to have Magnuson back.

"I believe he has distinguished himself as chief justice and we are eager to talk to him," Maclin said.

Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, said Magnuson's legacy will be fighting for funding amid economic tumult. "Chief Justice Magnuson has been a tremendous and tireless fighter for the courts," she said.

Tellijohn reports for Forum Communications Co.

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