The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

May 16, 2014

Our View: County attorney election impacts all

Why it matters: Blue Earth County residents will elect a new county attorney for the first time in two decades

Headlines of the last two years have brought to light the power and influence the office of county attorney can have on a community and its people.

The troubling prosecution by the Blue Earth County Attorney of Minnesota State University football coach Todd Hoffner on charges of child pornography was the most egregious example of what can happen when prosecutors go wrong.

Hoffner was exonerated after Blue Earth County Judge Krista Jass threw the case out for lack of evidence.

The Blue Earth County Attorneys Office also continues it imbroglio with the Blue Earth County Board over assistant attorney pay.

Retiring Blue Earth County Attorney Ross Arneson was in the position of suing the County Board he advised county business. While that is a legal option for any county attorney, it clearly created some friction between Arneson’s office and the people who pay their salaries.

This year’s county attorney election will be the first without an incumbent in 27 years. So far, Assistant County Attorney Patrick McDermott has announced he will run. We hope several others put in a bid as well. The office of county attorney is too important to leave to an uncontested race when there are many qualified candidates in the Mankato area legal community.

The county attorney has been called by legal experts the most powerful public official in a county.

In a speech to the Minnesota County Attorneys Annual Meeting in 2002, longtime Minnesota County Attorney Robert W. Johnson told the attorneys assembled: “the county attorneys office is without a doubt the most powerful office in the county.”

Johnson was the Anoka County Attorney for 32 years and was renowned in his field serving as president of the National District Attorney’s Association.

He also told the county attorneys in his 2002 speech: “You’ve all heard the old truth that power corrupts, absolute power absolutely corrupts; and that’s true. …with the power you have, you really have to work at being humble. It’s very easy to become arrogant and to reach the point where you think that, you know, that you sit right next to God in this whole process.”

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