Doug Wardlow - WCCO web photo
by Steve Timmer
Oct 1, 2018, 9:00 AM

Deconstructing Doug Wardlow, part three

The advocate

Part one and part two can be read at the links.

As is usual in the case of Doug Wardlow stories, first a video:

This is part of a longer “media availability” of Republican leadership on a Friday afternoon during the closing days of the legislative session in 2011. You can see the whole presser here.

I’ll set this up a little at the risk of not having you watch the video. But I really want you to watch the video.

Casting back to the thrilling days of yesteryear, remember that the 2010 election and the 2011-12 sessions were the height of Tea Party fever.

Minnesota Tea Party rally - photo by Steve Timmer

Minnesota Tea Party rally – photo by Steve Timmer

Freshman representative Doug Wardlow was right in the heart of the mix. Tenthers and Tea Partiers and Doug, oh my! (He lost in 2012.)

Doug Wardlow is elected in 2010 and is established early on as one of the principal overheated ideologues who led the charge that resulted in the government shut down in the summer of 2011. If you had to take a leak while traveling on I-90 that summer, you probably remember it.

Rep. Matt Dean, the — one-termer in that role — Majority Leader in the House, introduces Doug Wardlow in the video above as though he was Oliver Wendell Holmes or Louis Brandeis. Wardlow begins with a unctuous Thang Kew. (I thought there’d be palm fronds, thinks Doug.) Then, Wardlow makes a complete hash of it for about two minutes — you can hear MNGOP leadership shuffing around uncomfortably in the background — trying to describe the separation of powers under the Minnesota Constitution, until Sen. Geoff Michel, the Deputy, comes in and mercifully gives Wardlow the hook.

At the end, you can even see the House media camera operator beginning to zoom out as Michel starts for the podium off screen because the operator knows what’s going to happen to l’enfant terrible. Among the reasons you need to see the video is to hear the senator’s benediction.

As far as I know, it is the only appearance that Wardlow ever made at a Friday afternoon presser. (“Jesus, Kurt, why did you invite him?” That would be Kurt Zellars, the former Speaker of the House.)

Doug Wardlow is well established as a poor champion of ordinary citizens of Minnesota, especially if you are an an ordinary citizen who happens to be a person of color, a woman, an adherent to the Muslim faith, or, perish the thought, a member of the LGBTQ community. It is unimaginable to me, though, that a spokester for the Republican party who can’t stand up to a couple of questions from a Strib reporter —  a sort of annoyed-sounding Rachel Stassen Berger in the video — would offer himself as a legal champion for the citizens or the State of Minnesota. Sheesh.

Wardlow is not only a Yankee Doodle, though; he is inexperienced, certainly as a trial lawyer. If you faced Doug Wardlow in a jury trial, and you had tried only a single jury case, well, you’d probably be way ahead of Doug.

Not kidding.

In an article in the Strib yesterday, Sunday, September 30th, Wardlow described his experience:

At the Alliance, Parker Rosen and elsewhere [where Wardlow has been employed], Wardlow said he managed groups of attorneys and had a wide range of trial experience. However, he said he hasn’t handled criminal prosecution or defense. That’s an area he said he would focus on as attorney general.

Well, let’s see about that “wide range of trial experience.” It may mean he just watched some lawyers.

I have been through both federal and state trial court records, a couple of times, searching for Wardlow, Doug. Really, it doesn’t take very long. He’s been in practice a few years more than a dozen now. I found the sort of usual grind-the-faces-of-the-poor motion practice stuff you would expect.

I couldn’t find, though, a single instance of Doug Wardlow standing on his hind legs and trying a case to a jury. I could find evidence of perhaps his being the second chair in one or two state court bench trials (his name came up in the search, but he wasn’t listed as retained counsel in the metadata heading of the particular record), and maybe he was the first chair in a one-day bench trial.

The record is similar in federal court. We might infer that Doug Wardlow tried a case (also a bench trial, not a jury trial) in front of Judge Frank from the fact that he filed a post-trial brief in the case. That doesn’t mean he actually tried it though.

[If anyone is interested, I can give you the file numbers and venue of the cases described above and you can trot off the courthouse and look at the actual files; that would tell you more than the metadata I searched.]

Even the case that Doug Wardlow loves to tout, the case where he helped make sure that a Michigan transgender funeral home employee could stay fired, was not tried. It was submitted on cross-motions for summary judgment — on affidavits, that is — without a trial. The case was reversed on appeal to the Sixth Circuit. And the Supreme Court affirmed the reversal.

I mentioned that I have been through the court records data a couple of times. There might occasionally be errors or gaps in these data, or one could misinterpret the sometimes cryptic titles for docket entries, however, so in an effort to fair to candidate Wardlow, I asked his campaign — twice over a couple of weeks — for information that might contradict or supplement what I found. The campaign has not responded. I asked specifically for the caption (identifies the parties involved),  venue, and file number of any cases actually tried by Doug Wardlow; I said I was especially interested in jury cases.


The attorney general directs, supervises, manages, and evaluates the lawyers in the State of Minnesota’s largest public law firm, including lawyers who are in court on behalf of the state and assist county attorneys in major criminal matters; the attorney general occupies an office across the hall from the governor. It is an enormously important office. The interests of citizens, businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions, public safety agencies, public health, and the state itself and its agencies depend on the attorney general for advice and advocacy.

It would be foolish in the extreme to entrust the office of attorney general to a callow, inexperienced ideologue like Doug Wardlow.

Thanks for your feedback. If we like what you have to say, it may appear in a future post of reader reactions.