Minn. AG exonerated by state auditor

By Chris Rizo | Jun 3, 2008

Lori Swanson

James Nobles

ST. PAUL, Minn. (Legal Newsline)-A state auditor said Tuesday he will not begin a full-scale investigation of Attorney General Lori Swanson, who has been accused of pressuring state attorneys to file high-profile cases to boost her public profile.

Legislative Auditor James Nobles said allegations of ethical lapses by the attorney general in sworn testimony from seven attorneys did not provide enough evidence to investigate whether public funds were misused by her office.

The state attorneys who testified said they "felt pressured to act inappropriately, and they gave detailed accounts of specific events," Nobles said in a statement. "However, they also stated that no inappropriate, unethical, or illegal actions resulted from the pressure."

The attorneys were not named; Nobles citied a state law that allows him to grant confidentiality to witnesses.

Nobles said a "tipping point" was Swanson's decision to hire her predecessor, former Democratic Attorney General Mike Hatch, after he lost the 2006 governor's race.

"It's a lot - a lot - about Mike Hatch," Nobles said.

"Many of the attorneys that I talked to thought that having a new attorney general would kind of close the door on an era and maybe bring a different approach. And when things didn't turn out that way, I think it triggered what we have now - a pretty significant controversy about how people are treated in the attorney general's office," he added.

Swanson served as solicitor general under Hatch. Swanson, a Democrat, is serving her first term as attorney general.

Former Assistant Attorney General Amy Lawler claimed Swanson pressured her subordinates to launch investigations and file lawsuits prematurely as part of her public-relations strategy.

"The individuals we interviewed did not cite direct and specific job-related threats from either former-Attorney General Hatch or Attorney General Swanson in connection to the events in the allegations," Nobles wrote.

Hatch left his job in the attorney general's office about five months.

Swanson said Nobles' inquiry ended as she expected, citing another review from University of St. Thomas Law School Dean Thomas Mengler, which also discredited claims against her.

Mengler's report is considered less independent than the inquiry by the legislative auditor since Swanson enlisted Mengler to investigate the accusations.

Swanson said Tuesday her efforts to block state attorneys from unionizing led to the original complaints and turmoil in her office.

"The union organizers have been throwing mud at our office and its management in the hopes that it will advance their unlawful organizing campaign," she said in a statement.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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