The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

December 28, 2012

Investigative files sealed in Hoffner case



The university release also said another complaint against Hoffner remains under investigation. An affidavit Fleming filed with his request to seal the reports from the criminal investigation said that information could harm his client.

“Plaintiff Mr. Hoffner has an ongoing investigation relative to his employment as a head football coach at (MSU),” Fleming’s affidavit said. “Release of private non-public data could irreparably harm (Hoffner) with respect to that investigation that a civil lawsuit for damages would not fully compensate.”

Fleming said Thursday that state statues for government data practices restrict the public from seeing investigative information from inactive child abuse cases. Since the case has been dismissed and Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Mike Hanson has decided not to appeal, the information should be sealed from the public, Fleming said.

“The law says all information would be presumed public unless the statute says otherwise,” Fleming said. “The statute says this investigation is otherwise. This isn’t a hard case.”

Mark Anfinson, an attorney who represents the media in court cases seeking access to public records, said he doesn’t believe the case is that simple. He said the statute Fleming is referring to only covers cases where prosecutors decide against filing charges after an investigation.

“The main reason you allow public access to the file is a check on the law enforcement agency,” Anfinson said. “When no charges are filed, there’s a powerful presumption that it was a baseless charge. If it meant not to pursue the case on appeal, it would say so.”

It is very rare for an attorney to file a request to seal investigation records, Anfinson said. It’s not as rare for a judge to temporarily seal information until legal questions can be answered. The investigation information from Hoffner’s case was already legally sealed until the case was closed, so Jass is simply “maintaining the status quo” temporarily until Fleming’s challenge can be considered, Anfinson said.

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