Editorial: Resolution needed in AG controversy
March 23, 2008
In the turmoil now swirling around the Minnesota attorney general's office, no one
should question Lori Swanson's expertise or her work ethic. Before her election
in 2006, Minnesota's top lawyer spent years as former AG Mike Hatch's top gun.
Her consumer-protection work -- cracking down on predatory lenders, health
insurers' wasteful spending and financial firms that target the elderly --
continues to benefit a wide range of Minnesotans.
But as union advocates battle to organize the DFLer's staff, disturbing allegations have surfaced about mismanagement and potentially unethical behavior. We respect Swanson's concerns that these may be politically motivated attacks or retaliation by anonymous disgruntled employees. But her office has immense power; it can compel a company to turn over its most sensitive records, or make front-page charges of fraud. If there are questions about the office's integrity, those questions need to be
It's time for independent review by a respected nonpartisan broker -- we suggest Legislative Auditor James Nobles -- to clear the air. he year has already yielded an example of how valuable such a review can be. In January, Nobles' office put an end to a months long controversy involving Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, clearing him of using office contacts to solicit campaign contributions.
Swanson acknowledged in an interview this week the "radioactive" effect that even raising ethics violations has in the legal world. And in a Feb. 19 e-mail, she wrote that the turmoil threatened to "undermine the work of this office.'' Given that, she should welcome an outside review to address the allegations. Among them: that the impulse to sue preceded a finding of wrongdoing; that consumer statements were tampered with, and that pro-union employees were targeted for termination.
An independent review should also examine attorney turnover. According to Swanson, 49 attorneys have left since she was elected, out of a staff of 155 to 160, for a turnover rate of about 30 percent. Swanson contends that private firms have similar attrition and that a higher number, 54, left during Hatch's first 15 months. Hatch, however, fired most; under Swanson, most left voluntarily. And just to compare: After the last election, the Hennepin County attorney's office had 11 percent turnover.
Unlike politically appointed officeholders, Swanson must answer to the voters. She should be given wide latitude in running the office. She can hire bright young attorneys, as she has. She can listen to the advice of outside legal opinion that the law prohibits unionizing her attorneys.
Ultimately, Swanson and her critics want the same thing: a fair resolution and an office that functions at its best. An independent review will help end the rancor and
let the office focus on its most important client: the citizens of Minnesota.
© 2008 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Thursday, March 13, 2008
I am the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) local 2938. We represent the Assistant County Attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders and other legal professionals employed by Hennepin County. Our Executive Board has asked me to write to show our strong support for the attorneys and legal staff at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office in their effort to organize under AFSCME. In particular we want to commend the courage of the three Assistant Attorneys General who spoke publicly about the organizing effort.
We have had union representation with AFSCME for over 35 years. We understand firsthand the importance of union representation and just-cause terminations in a public law office. We too work in an environment that experiences a political election every four years. We believe that union representation has helped us avoid the politically charged environment that currently plagues the Attorney Generals Office, an atmosphere that makes it difficult for their attorneys to do their jobs. In Hennepin County, we work in concert with our elected officials. Union representation ultimately benefits the public.
Union representation allows us to negotiate our salaries, and to ensure that salaries are consistent throughout the offices. Union representation allows us to negotiate our health and insurance benefits, as well as other conditions of employment. Union representation gives us a voice, and allows us to communicate productively with management, without fear of reprisal or of losing our jobs. In Hennepin County, elections are not followed by large numbers of staff resigning. We firmly believe that union representation benefits the citizens of Hennepin County by fostering retention of our highly skilled and experienced attorneys and other legal staff. We do better work, with fewer staff, than similar offices throughout the country.
We understand that over 50 attorneys, more than a third of the staff, have left the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office in the past year. That kind of turnover only brings down morale, weakens an office overall and reduces productivity. It does not benefit citizens. We also just learned that Amy Lawler, one of the three attorneys who spoke out publicly, has been placed on administrative leave for an unspecified period of time. This is why union representation is so important. There does not appear to be any process within that office for raising concerns with management without risking your job, as Ms. Lawler’s case demonstrates.
We offer our support and assistance as the employees at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office try and raise their voice to be heard. We wish them success, and hope that the public that these dedicated public servants serve, will support them too.
President AFSCME Local 2938
Sunday, March 9, 2008
A Message to Attorney General Lori Swanson
March 9, 2008 by cornerhousecomments
As Martin Luther King once said: ” The time is always right to do what is right.” Nowhere is this more true than in the office of the Attorney General.
Those words, AG Swanson, are from your inaugural remarks upon taking office in January 2006.
You talked about Clarence Darrow:
… a famous lawyer from the last century who used the law to fight for the rights of labor and people without clout. Darrow once said that: “As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.”
You also had this to say:
My mission is for the Attorney General’s Office to fight for the rights of everyday people, and especially those without a voice.In my Attorney General’s Office, no one will be so powerful they are above the law or so powerless they are beneath its protection.
We will be attentive and responsive to the needs of our citizens, and we will never forget that it’s the people of Minnesota who pay our salaries and whom we serve.
In your remarks you ask the question, “What makes a good Attorney General?”, and you offer some answers:
An Attorney General should put the public interest above all else.
An Attorney General should help everyday people get a fair shake when the deck is stacked against them by those who hold the cards.
An Attorney General should make sure that everyone, no matter who they are or who they know–or who they don’t know–has an Attorney General on their side.
Pretty good speech Ms Swanson but is that all it was? A bunch of words that have no real meaning to you? Maybe you should read it again and then ask these questions:
Would a good Attorney General hold captive audience meetings to coerce employees into opposing the union?
Would a good Attorney General use fear and intimidation to run the office?
Would a good Attorney General let over 50 professionals from the office leave and not care?
Would a good Attorney General ask the employees to sign a loyalty pledge?
Would a good Attorney General fire or reassign employees who are involved in the union organizing effort?
Attorney General Swanson, please reread the section of your inaugural remarks about Clarence Darrow. You know, the part about a famous lawyer who uses the law to fight for the rights of labor.
Step out of the way. Respect the will of your employees. Do your job of protecting the rights of all of the citizens of Minnesota, including your staff.
Martin Luther King said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” Heed his advice.
Peace & solidarity?