The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 30, 2012

Top 10 stories: No. 1: The Todd Hoffner child porn case

By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — What turned out to be a historic season for the Minnesota State University football team started with its head coach, Todd Hoffner, having to leave a practice field.

Hoffner’s status with the team, which finished the season with a 13-1 record and one game away from the championship match, has changed from head coach. The university made a late night announcement Friday that Hoffner is now the assistant athletic director for facilities development. His job, if he agrees to do it, will be to help develop a plan for athletic and recreational facilities.

The Star Tribune reported Friday that Hoffner plans to fight the reassignment.

University officials have never said why Hoffner was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 17 and told to stay off university property. Less than a week later Hoffner was arrested at his Eagle Lake home and charged with creating child pornography. A criminal complaint said MSU information technology employees found nude videos of Hoffner’s children on the coach’s university-issued cell phone.

Sheriff’s investigators also searched his home and several computer devices and found no other evidence of child pornography.

Hoffner hired Jim Fleming, former Fifth Judicial District chief public defender, from the Maschka, Riedy and Ries law firm to represent him. Questions were raised immediately about whether family videos could be considered child pornography. After more than one meeting with Fleming, however, Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Mike Hanson refused to drop the charges.

Fleming’s next step was to ask District Court Judge Krista Jass, also a former chief public defender who worked under Fleming at one time, to review the videos and decide if they were criminal. The law says the videos could be considered pornography if the children were being directed or acting in a lewd manner.

Jass ruled they were doing neither and dismissed the charges. Her written ruling described the children’s actions in the video as age appropriate and “playful and silly.” It also pointed out that parents have differing views on whether recording young children without clothing is appropriate.

“Absent harm to the children, it is not for the state to take a position on these divergent viewpoints, but to preserve the fundamental privacy interests of the family.”

After the criminal case was dismissed, the university issued a statement saying one complaint against Hoffner had been investigated and closed. A union attorney also said Hoffner is fighting an attempt by the university to place him on a 20-day unpaid suspension starting Jan. 7.

A second complaint against Hoffner is still being investigated, the university statement said. Nothing was said about the status of that complaint in the Friday night news release.

Public interest in the situation has continued because many are wondering why Hoffner hasn’t been reinstated as head coach. That has resulted in media requests for investigation records from the Hoffner case. Investigation reports usually become public after a criminal case is resolved.

Fleming responded to those requests by asking Jass to seal the records until they can be reviewed to see if any of the information is considered private under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. She granted the request last week.

Hoffner has also added two Minneapolis attorneys to his legal team, Christopher Madel and Joseph Friedberg. Madel has experience representing high-profile clients in criminal and civil matters and has been involved in internal investigations of corporations and other entities. Friedberg specializes in criminal and complex civil cases in federal court.