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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 the role of county attorney, public safety, and criminal justice reform. This time we’re asking about the candidates’ top priorities. There’s also a series of yes/no questions about basic political positions in our printable voter’s guide.
What are your two to three top priorities as county attorney and how will you address those issues? What made you decide to focus on those issues in particular?
We posed this question to all candidates. Here are their responses:
My key priority is to continue protecting public safety by prosecuting crime in a fair and just
manner to hold people accountable; and to ensure the rights of crime victims are safeguarded.
To improve public safety, I will continue to work to reduce criminal justice involvement with
those living with a mental illness and/or substance use disorder.
A second top priority is addressing the criminal case backlog caused by the pandemic. I implemented the following measures to assist in reducing the backlog: (1) I suspended
prosecuting gross misdemeanor level drug cases; (2) I created a pretrial drug diversion program;
(3) I relaxed entry criteria for our adult low-level property offender diversion program to
increase participation; and (4) I relaxed our disposition guidelines for low level felony offenses
to encourage settlement. To help relieve some of the pressure on our criminal prosecutors, at
my request, the County Board funded two temporary prosecutor positions and a temporary
support staff position. These temporary positions are in place for 2 years and are funded with
American Rescue Plan Act dollars.
The purpose of our court system is to make our neighborhoods safer. Adopting evidence-based practices help do just that. While other counties have successfully implemented programs that are more effective and less costly, Dakota County lags behind. I will change that.
First, if elected, I will focus the resources of the Dakota County Attorney’s office on prosecuting violent crimes that threaten the safety and stability of our communities, not on criminalizing addiction and mental illness. I will combine compassion and justice to help Dakota County become a model jurisdiction that uses evidence-based programs within specialty courts. These treatment courts will include expanding the newly created veteran’s court, better utilizing drug court, and forming the first mental health court. After I began publicly advocating for a Veterans Court to be formed in Dakota County, one was subsequently established in early 2022. These treatment courts connect people to effective treatment and support after they undergo screening and assessments and are proven to reduce recidivism.
With the increased use of treatment courts, prosecutors and our law enforcement partners can concentrate our resources towards more serious and violent crimes. I will institute focused deterrence strategy, which is an evidence-based practice where prosecutors and law enforcement hone in on repeat offenders and at risk youth, such as those who participate in shootings. I have worked to successfully implement focused deterrence strategies previously, and will do so again to implement this strategy in Dakota County.
Matt’s top priorities build on his previous experience and advocacy as former Lakeville Mayor and former State Senator. They are core to providing safety and justice for all, including the most vulnerable members of our community.
ADDRESSING CYCLES OF SEXUAL & DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Developing practices that treat survivors of assault with dignity, equipping County Attorney staff with the best possible training, and conducting an overview of uninvestigated assault cases, are just a few of the initiatives that Matt will use to begin this work. Providing staff with the best tools to do their jobs and working with law enforcement agencies create the best public safety outcomes for the people who need it most.
KEEPING COMMUNITIES SAFE FROM GUN VIOLENCE: Matt is a proud advocate for measures that make communities safer while respecting those who responsibly own firearms. As County Attorney, he will continue that record by enforcing straw person purchaser laws and pressing state and federal legislators to pass background checks and red flag laws.
ESTABLISHING A VETERANS COURT: A Veteran’s Court could provide specialized staff, qualified professionals, alternative sentencing, and judges with a deep understanding of veterans and their concerns. As County Attorney, Matt will establish a Veterans Court that will work with veterans in crisis, and while holding them accountable for their actions, also providing the context and resources needed to help them return to life as healthy, productive citizens.
I have represented thousands of Dakota County residents who have found themselves at the pointy end of every type of case the county attorney’s office prosecutes, both criminal and civil, over the past 35 years. As you might imagine, I have a few complaints. You could best describe my priority as wanting to change the focus of the office. I want to solve problems. The U.S. has the highest number of incarcerated people, per capita, in the world. But still our crime rates continue to rise. It is time to realize that we cannot simply jail our way to public safety. For some, incarceration is the right answer, and I have 35 years of battle-tested courtroom experience to bring that about. But for many, jail will only make the problems that brought them to the system worse. My primary focus in every case we handle will be to fashion a disposition that will ensure that whatever the person is standing in front of the court for, we do everything make sure it is the last time. We have to end the revolving door of mass incarceration and start solving the problems that feed that system. We have to get Smart on Crime!
Vote on August 9
The primary election is on Tuesday, August 9. Learn more about where and how to vote. You can also vote early with an absentee ballot, either by mail or by stopping at the Dakota County offices.
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.
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