More funds head to Minn. attorney general, public defenders

Feb 6, 2023, 4:08 AM | Updated: 6:30 pm
Minnesota Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison speaks at a news conference at the State Capito...

Minnesota Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison speaks at a news conference at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, in support of a bill to give his office more money to hire more prosecutors. He's joined by Democratic House Majority Leader Jamie Long, of Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

(AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Millions of extra dollars are working their way through the Minnesota Legislature to both beef up the ability of Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office to prosecute violent crime and the state’s public defender system to relieve the staffing shortages that nearly led to a strike last year.

Ellison assembled the team that got former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin convicted of murdering George Floyd in 2021, but the Democratic attorney general had been unable for four years to persuade a divided Legislature to give him more money to hire more prosecutors. Now that Democrats control both chambers of the statehouse, Ellison is eager to get that money.

The House voted 73-55 Monday night to give the attorney general’s office a quick $269,000 from the state’s $17.6 billion budget surplus and an extra $2 million a year thereafter, on top of its regular budget. The Senate approved the money last week and Ellison expects Democratic Gov. Tim Walz to sign it soon.

Ellison’s office was down to just one criminal prosecutor after years of budgetary pressures when he took office in 2019. He was able to raise that to three, but the former Senate Republican majority refused to fund any more despite a large budget surplus. Republican lawmakers wanted him to reassign lawyers who were working on consumer protection and business regulation instead.

The office had as many as 12 prosecutors as of 1998. The bill will let Ellison hire around seven new attorneys, and he said he hopes to add them in the next six to eight weeks.

“Today we want to really build it back,” Ellison said at a news conference ahead of the debate. “Today recognize that the counties need the help. We recognize the spike in crime. We recognize the financial and fiscal pressures on our counties. And mostly we recognize the pain of the victims.”

Democratic House Majority Leader Jamie Long, of Minneapolis, said the money will let the attorney general’s office take on around 70 to 80 additional cases annually.

Staffing became an issue in the 2022 election campaign, in which unsuccessful GOP candidate Jim Schultz accused Ellison of being too soft on crime. Ellison repeatedly pointed out that his office, by law, can take over a criminal case only at the request of local prosecutors or the governor.

When the attorney general’s office prosecutes criminal cases, they’re usually complex cases in rural counties where local prosecutors are short on resources and expertise, such as the shooting of a police officer in Albert Lea. Or they’ve been politically charged cases, such as Chauvin’s trial or the successful manslaughter prosecution of Officer Kim Potter in the Taser mix-up shooting death of Daunte Wright. Ellison noted that 44 of Minnesota’s 87 counties have three or fewer prosecutors.

Earlier Monday, the House voted unanimously for more funding for the state Board of Public Defense so that it can meet what the American Bar Association recommends for manageable caseload standards. The bill contains $154 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and $164 million for the next, setting the board’s full budget for the next two years. A similar bill is sailing through Senate committees, and Walz is expected to sign it, too.

The Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, of Roseville, told reporters it works out to around a $50 million annual increase from current levels. The extra money had bipartisan support in the 2022 session but stalled out amid partisan gridlock on other issues.

“The integrity of our entire justice system rests on the public defense system,” Becker-Finn said. “You want to talk about liberty? None of those rights mean anything if you don’t have assistance of counsel, and you don’t have an adequate assistance of counsel. Outcomes should not be dictated based on your access to wealth.”

The state’s 470 public defenders came within days of walking out and bringing much of the state court system to a standstill before a deal was reached last March. They said they were pushed to the brink by routinely high caseloads that became unmanageable amid the coronavirus pandemic. They also complained their pay lagged far behind what prosecutors sitting across the table from them made. The money will help the board both raise pay and add lawyers.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Google’s artificially intelligent ‘Bard’ set for next stage

Google announced Tuesday it's allowing more people to interact with “ Bard,” the artificially intelligent chatbot the company is building to counter Microsoft's early lead in a pivotal battleground of technology.
15 hours ago
Evelyn Knapp, a supporter of former President Donald, waves to passersby outside of Trump's Mar-a-L...
Associated Press

Trump legal woes force another moment of choosing for GOP

From the moment he rode down the Trump Tower escalator to announce his first presidential campaign, a searing question has hung over the Republican Party: Is this the moment to break from Donald Trump?
2 days ago
FILE - The Silicon Valley Bank logo is seen at an open branch in Pasadena, Calif., on March 13, 202...
Associated Press

Army of lobbyists helped water down banking regulations

It seemed like a good idea at the time: Red-state Democrats facing grim reelection prospects would join forces with Republicans to slash bank regulations — demonstrating a willingness to work with President Donald Trump while bucking many in their party.
2 days ago
FILE - This Sept. 2015, photo provided by NOAA Fisheries shows an aerial view of adult female South...
Associated Press

Researchers: Inbreeding a big problem for endangered orcas

People have taken many steps in recent decades to help the Pacific Northwest's endangered killer whales, which have long suffered from starvation, pollution and the legacy of having many of their number captured for display in marine parks.
3 days ago
FILE - Hiring signs are displayed at a grocery store in Arlington Heights, Ill., Jan. 13, 2023. Emp...
Associated Press

Pay transparency is spreading. Here’s what you need to know

U.S. employers are increasingly posting salary ranges for job openings, even in states where it’s not required by law, according to analysts with several major job search websites.
3 days ago
Meadowdale High School 9th grade students Juanangel Avila, right, and Legacy Marshall, left, work t...
David Klepper and Manuel Valdes, Associated Press

Seattle high school teacher advocates for better digital literacy in schools

Shawn Lee, a high school social studies teacher in Seattle, wants to see lessons on internet akin to a kind of 21st century driver's education, an essential for modern life.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
More funds head to Minn. attorney general, public defenders