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Minnesota judge has tough reputation

Associated Press

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – A judge who’s under fire for allowing sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan III to go free on bail is regarded locally as so tough that defendants try to avoid him.

Judge Thomas Schroeder has been removed from 98 court cases in the past year, more than any other judge on a list compiled by Minnesota’s 7th Judicial District.

“My clients would ask me to strike him as a judge, because they believed he was too tough on criminal defendants,” said Kevin Miller, a defense attorney in Hawley.

Schroeder set Duncan’s bail at $15,000 when he appeared in court April 5 on charges that he molested a 6-year-old boy in Detroit Lakes. Prosecutors had asked for $25,000.

The transcript shows Schroeder was told during the hearing that Duncan, of Fargo, N.D., was a convicted sex offender. But Schroeder has said he didn’t know Duncan was a Level 3 sex offender, the type considered most likely to reoffend.

Duncan, 42, bailed himself out with a $15,000 check.

Duncan then left the area and is now charged with killing three people at a Kootenai County home. Authorities also allege he kidnapped 8-year-old Shasta Groene and her brother, 9-year-old Dylan, and sexually assaulted them. Shasta was discovered with Duncan on July 2. Dylan’s body was found a few days later.

Throw Away the Key, a national advocacy group for crime victims, has called for Schroeder to resign, and many Inland Northwest residents have expressed outrage at the low bail.

Minnesota law allows both the defense and prosecution one strike to remove a judge before a criminal or civil case begins.

Among 20 judges in the 7th District, Schroeder led the pack with 98 removals since July 1, 2004. Twelve judges were removed from less than 10 cases. Five judges were not included in the tally.

All of Schroeder’s removals apparently came at the request of defendants and their attorneys.

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