The county attorney is on the ballot this year in Dakota County. Four candidates are running for Dakota County attorney, the first time the race has been contested since 1994. The top two in the primary will advance to the general election in November. We’ve asked the candidates a series of questions to see where they stand on the issues. We’ll share one question and the responses at a time leading up to the primary election on August 9. See our 2022 primary voter’s guide for more.
We’ve also asked about public safety, the candidates’ top priorities, and criminal justice reform. This time we’re asking about the role of county attorney. There’s also a series of yes/no questions about basic political positions in our printable voter’s guide.
Most people don’t understand the role of county attorney. How do you see the role and what’s the most important part of the job?
We posed this question to all candidates. Here are their responses:
County attorneys in Minnesota have many duties they are required to perform by law. The
following is a list of some of those duties: (1) prosecute all felony level offenses and certain
gross misdemeanor offenses committed within the county; (2) prosecute all level of offenses
committed by juveniles in the county; (3) advocate for and ensure the rights of crime victims are
safeguarded; (4) handle all appeals filed in any criminal, juvenile or civil case in which the county
is a party; (5) administer several different adult and juvenile diversion programs; (6) represent
the county in child protection matters and adult protection matters; (7) provide child support
enforcement services and paternity establishment; and (8) provide legal services to the Dakota
County Board of Commissioners and county departments.
As the Dakota County Attorney, I am responsible for leading a staff of approximately 100
employees and managing a budget of $8.4 million to ensure all those duties are performed and
they are performed well. This is the most important part of my job. Because of my 22 years of
service in the Dakota County Attorney’s Office as well as my 7 years of service in the Lyon
County Attorney’s Office, I have experience in every facet of the work performed by the office.
Equally important, having served as the Criminal Division Head, Chief Deputy and now County
Attorney within the Dakota County Attorney’s Office, I have the necessary management
experience and leadership skills to best carry the work of the office forward.
The Dakota County Attorney is the top lawyer for the community and chief legal counsel for the county government. County Attorneys do not vote on or introduce legislation; however, they have wide prosecutorial discretion in determining policies and strategies for how to keep the public safe in an effective and efficient way. So, it is vital for the Dakota County Attorney to be a fierce advocate for victims while having direct experience implementing public safety strategies. It is critical for the Dakota County Attorney to have the ability to build bridges with community leaders while understanding the nuances of prosecution and how to effectively create new strategies for public safety is critical. My frontline experience, combined with my experience advocating alongside community leaders, make me the most qualified candidate. I am an accomplished prosecutor with over sixteen years of experience, handling thousands of criminal cases and working with community partners to amend legislation. Recently, I am working to create partnerships between police, youth outreach leaders, and community members to proactively reduce auto theft recidivism by implementing focused deterrence strategies, which are evidence based programs with a proven track record of increasing public safety.
Let’s start with what the Dakota County Attorney does not do. The Dakota County
Attorney almost never argues cases in court. Dakota is the third largest county in
Minnesota, and has a large office of hard-working frontline attorneys and staff.
Like the District Attorney on the TV’s Law & Order, the Dakota County Attorney makes
decisions about cases, they don’t prosecute cases themselves. Just as a mayor doesn’t
issue housing permits, and a governor doesn’t sell you a fishing license, a strong county
attorney spends their time leading the office, not micromanaging their prosecutors.
Like the Hennepin and Ramsey County Attorneys, the Dakota County Attorney is the
head of a large office, who sets policy, makes staffing decisions, negotiates with other
agencies, lobbies for resources, and advocates with the Legislature and Governor for
changes to laws and regulations. Really, Dakota County Attorney is most similar to a
county commissioner, legislator, or mayor.
The Dakota County Attorney is an elected public advocate working for the people of
Dakota County. The role requires leadership, vision, and good judgment. Matt is the only
candidate in this race who has been elected and successfully run a large government
office. As two-time mayor of Lakeville, Matt ran a city office with a multimillion-dollar
budget, hundreds of staff, serving 70,000 people. As a state senator, Matt advocated for
vital changes to state law, and negotiated funding bills involving billions of dollars. Matt
has the kind of experience we need leading the Dakota County Attorney’s Office.
The part of the job that is the most public facing is the job of the chief law-enforcement officer for the county. When an arrest is made for a serious crime, the police bring their evidence to the county attorney’s prosecutors, whose job is to review that evidence an determine what, if any, charges will be brought. The prosecutors then handle the cases through the court system. Because of this relationship, people often think the county attorney represents the police. That is not the case. The county attorney’s job is to represent the best interests of all the people of the county in which they are elected. That includes sometimes representing the police and other agencies, but also prosecuting members of those agencies if that is what is indicated. Therefore, the most important job of the county attorney is providing legal advice and counsel to the other elected officials and agencies regarding how the county’s resources are allocated to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of the entire community they serve. The county attorney serves the people of the county and is answerable to them.
Vote on August 9
See our 2022 primary voter’s guide for more on the candidates and other races.
Thank you to the candidates for taking the time to respond to our questions.
Support West St. Paul Reader to ensure local election coverage can continue.