Judicial Profile, Magistrate Judge Franklin Noel

Excellence, Insight, Experience and Vision for the Future

By Lynette Carrington

Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel loves his job. There’s no other way to put it. Aft er a winding road that eventually led him into his current position, there is no place else he’d rather be and the legal system is better for it.

Movies, novels and Current events
“My interest in law started very early. I pretty much knew by junior high school that I wanted to be a lawyer. Things that influenced me at the time were movies, books and the news. Movies seem to be a major instigator of lawyers. The movies that were important to me were “Anatomy of a Murder” and “Inherit the Wind.” And books that you read in junior high school—“To Kill A Mockingbird”. ” Growing up, he also took particular notice of various Supreme Court cases that were in the news.

Although Judge Noel’s experiences are perhaps far more colorful and in-depth over anything that has been depicted in Hollywood, the cases over which he presides continue to off er him challenging issues and important decisions that reach well beyond his courtroom. “There was a time when the Supreme Court was deciding Escobedo v. Illinois, Miranda v. Arizona and Gideon v. Wainwright. These were all major landmarks in the law that all the law students learn about, but when I was a teenager, these were major new stories that were happening,” Noel explained. The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War were also taking place. “Social justice was a major influence growing up in the suburbs of New York City.”

Noel was attracted to the judicial world and the process getting there was a long one. In law school, he desired to be a criminal lawyer. While in school, he served on the editorial board of the Georgetown Law Journal and liked being editor. “I didn’t know how to go about getting a job in criminal law because criminal defense lawyers tended to be solo practitioners or small firms. There really weren’t criminal law practices at that time,” stated Noel. When he was a third year law student, law firms would visit the campus and conduct interviews. “One of them offered me a job and it was an easy path. It sounded like a good thing; it was a lot of money, it was good work and the people were good.” He took a job in Washington D.C., but aft er two years, decided he wasn’t exactly where he wanted to be and still had his eye on becoming a criminal lawyer.

Moving on up
He applied for jobs as a prosecutor and was hired on by Prosecutor Ed Rendell, the D.A. of Philadelphia. (Rendell went on to become mayor, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and governor of Pennsylvania.) From there, Noel wanted to get into federal criminal practice at about the time his wife was getting her master’s in business administration. His wife was offered a job at Pillsbury in Minneapolis and the couple made their move to the city. He applied at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Noel was then hired by Jim Rosenbaum. Thirty years, two houses and two kids later, Minneapolis is still home.

The transition from practicing to the judge’s bench was natural. Aft er working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the magistrate judge position became available and Noel saw it as a great opportunity. Aft er an arduous process of committees and interviews, Noel was ultimately surprised that he was selected because he was not from the area and felt perhaps other candidates had more experience. Initially Noel expected that the position would lead to other opportunities. “But, the job turned out to be too much fun, so I stuck with it,” mused the judge. He was just re-appointed and sworn into in his fourth eight-year term. Obviously, this position agrees with him whole-heartedly.

Judge Noel serves on the case management/electronic case filing advisory committee. As part of the committee, he gets to handle many of logistical goings-on in current technology and how it pertains to the legal process. “Courts come late to social innovation and so when computers were invented, it took the courts about 50 years to recognize that,” Noel stated. They came up with the Civil Guide and Criminal Guide that are rules and regulations on specifically how to use electronic case filing. With that now in place, there’s not too much to do until other shift s in technology occur. Additionally, Noel serves on the federal practice committee. Both committees are local and comprised of lawyers, judges and court personnel from Minnesota.

“I also serve on the criminal law committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States. the criminal law committee is a committee of the Judicial Conference of the U.S.” Noel explained. “It is made up of several judges from all over the country. The Judicial Conference is the policy-making body of the entire federal judiciary, and it operates through committees.”

On the Case
From Judge Noel’s perspective, the most interesting cases are not necessarily the ones that get the most publicity or attention. He likes the cases that delve into complex legal issues. Magistrate judges in the criminal field handle motions to suppress evidence in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. “There’s a guy named Demario Booker who was arrested, had a struggle and the police basically smashed his face into the cement while they were arresting him. He had surgery to reconstruct his face and was on heavy medications and painkillers when they decided they had to interview him,” explained Noel. “There was a question whether the interview was voluntary in light of the fact that he was drugged up from the painkillers. It was an interesting issue and we concluded that it was not a voluntary statement and recommended it be suppressed.”

Another case was that of Skye Davis who was arrested when it was believed that her boyfriend was illegally selling guns. “The police wanted her to cooperate with them. So, they arrested her and held her in jail for three hours and interrogated her without charging her with any crime,” said Noel. “They held her and interrogated her to get her to cooperate. The question came up as to whether or not arresting her and holding her without charging her with any crime or taking her before a court violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment. I concluded that holding her violated her rights, and suppressed the statement. To be very technical, I recommended that the statement be suppressed, which didn’t happen until the district judge issued the order, adopting my report & recommendation.”

The case of Barry Ardolf was interesting, too. Ardolf was having a dispute with this neighbor and decided to hack into that neighbor’s computer. He decided to send child pornography from the neighbor’s computer to that neighbor’s employer along with threats to kill the vice president. Through forensic investigative techniques authorities were able to identify Ardolf as being the perpetrator. “It was almost like the Hitchcock movie, “North by Northwest,” ”Noel said. “The neighbor, like the protagonist in “North by Northwest” was caught up in a complicated legal case without any way of knowing how he got there.” Ultimately, Ardolf was sentenced to 18 years and is serving time.

Qubilah Shabazz was Malcom X’s daughter who was charged with conspiring to assassinate Louis Farrakhan. “The FBI had an undercover informant who recorded conversations with Qubilah Shabazz about conspiring to kill Louis Farrakhan in revenge for him having killed her father. That was an interesting case as well,” Noel said. “We had the suppression issues on that case as well.”

Judge Noel is grappling with a loss to his legal support system. “My secretary and judicial assistant for the last 24 years, Cathy Orlando is retiring,” lamented Noel. He loves that he’s been able to come to work in the morning and everything is ready to go. She had previously served Noel’s three predecessors in the magistrate judge position. He will miss her, but will press on into his next term with a new assistant.

Beyond his immediate office Judge Noel sees that a major challenge to the legal profession is that there are not enough trials. “Most cases these days are settled in the civil field. The problem is that you can’t really value a settlement unless you’re able to determine what the risk is if you go to trial,” Noel explained. “Without enough trials happening, we don’t have the benchmarks that the lawyers need to figure out what the settlement value of a case is. There are big law firms that are filled with lawyers who have never tried a case.” The economics of the legal field have changed, too, and Noel thinks that with less legal jobs available, law schools will have to cut back on some admissions.

Noel looks forward to continuing to instruct legal students at The University of Minnesota Law School (as he has for the last two decades) and serving as a role model and mentor to those that he chooses to clerk for him. In moving into his fourth term as magistrate judge, Noel is embracing the legal issues and challenges that will come before him in the next eight years and is still as engaged and fascinated by the legal issues brought before him as he was from the beginning.