Outside the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area, a large percentage of the other 80 county attorney’s offices are little more than mom-and-pop-type operations with the number of staff attorneys countable on one hand.
According to a letter from Cook County Attorney Molly Hicken, “twenty-four county attorney offices in Minnesota have two or fewer attorneys and there are fourteen counties with just three attorneys.”
That can make it tougher to achieve justice for all.
“As an office with only two attorneys, we must both represent county officials on all civil matters and handle criminal matters. We are expected to be knowledgeable in all areas of law,” wrote Cottonwood County Attorney Nicholas Anderson. “… As we do not necessarily handle matters with the same regularity as larger offices, this can take a significant portion of my time to get myself up to speed on a topic.”
In situations where specialized experience or greater resources are needed to prosecute such high-level crimes as murder, human trafficking, large-scale drug operations or in-depth financial crimes, the Office of the Attorney General stands ready to help.
“We are working on some serious felonies,” said Attorney General Keith Ellison.
And demand continues to increase.
Rep. John Huot (DFL-Rosemount) sponsors HF29 that, as amended, would provide $269,000 in the current fiscal year and $2.02 million in each of the next two fiscal years to the office “for enhanced criminal enforcement and related initiatives.” The bill initially called for seven full-time equivalent attorneys and two full-time equivalent legal assistants, but such specificity has been removed.
Approved Tuesday by the House State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee on a party-line vote, its next stop is the House Ways and Means Committee.
“This is about getting the bad guy when counties can’t afford to do it,” Huot said.
“Rural Minnesotans who have suffered as victims of serious crimes in small communities deserve the same level of justice as Minnesotans living in larger communities with larger prosecutor offices and greater specialization,” Hicken wrote.
Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) unsuccessfully offered an amendment — it failed on a party-line vote — that would have required a report on how the money is spent and results obtained. It also would need to “include information on prosecutions and outcomes of investigations into waste, fraud, and abuse, including any civil penalties awarded or criminal convictions secured as a result of these investigations.”