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Sunday, April 29, 2007

AG's Office: Where to go from here?

I thought I would create a thread for folks who want to make constructive suggestions about how to improve the situation at the AG's Office.

As I understand it, there are essentially two groups --those satisfied with the status quo and those who find the working conditions extremely difficult.

If anyone has any ideas how management proceses could be changed to make those in the second group happier, please put them here.


Anonymous said...

Have MNLawyer act as the clearinghouse for such suggestions -- that would be my number one choice.

I've just starting reading your magazine, but seriously, what is this blog? As I'm a 1L, it'd be nice to read the same sorts of things that are in your magazine. Not every post should be "MN AG's Office Exposed."


Mark Cohen, editor said...

Thanks, Chris --

Look through the posts we have here and I think you will find they are on a wide variety of topics. There just happened to be some big happenings in the AG's Office Thurday and Friday so it is naturally the topic of the moment.

Anonymous said...

How about an appointed AG - by the governor mid-term - kind of like the Federal Reserve Chairman?

We need to get away from the office being a stepping stone to the Governor's Mansion or the U.S. Senate.

Since pretty much one party controls the office, I doubt it would happen.

Anonymous said...

It's really simple:

1. Acknowledge there is a problem and then part ways with Mike Hatch because it seems that he might be the source of it.

2. Seek advice from those who have or are successfully running public law agencies in MN and throughout the country. Take a best practices approach to straightening everything out.

3. Listen to the dedicated public servants in the AG's office. You can't make everyone happy but listening is a good start.

4. Bring back some of the great Assistant AG's that left or were forced to leave under Hatch. There are some openings now. We all know who they are and they would intsantly help morale and help bridge the gap between management and line attorneys.

4. Keep moving forward on the public initiatives but just w/o Mr. Hatch and his style of politics and drive by litigation. De-politicize the office and lead with ethics and doing the right thing. Allow for attorneys to excercise their professional judgment.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

How exactly do you get to two groups-- one who is happy at the AG and one who is not.

Perhaps there are some fresh faces who haven't figured it out, or some odd folks who are OK with it, but I ask you to find 3 former AAGs (out of, what, 200 or so) who will tell you off the record that they liked working for Hatch or Swanson. You may get some non-committal crap on the record, but almost no one (perhaps even literally, but there might be 1 or 2%) will say working for Hatch or Swanson was a good experience.

Anonymous said...

Constructive suggestions are a great idea. Here are a few.

Stop being a sneak and a bully. Hatch's style, and the one Swanson has apparently adopted as well, is to bully people, particularly people over whom he already has a big advantage. Swanson's "challenge" to Kari Ferguson to consent to allow her personnel file to be made public is a classic demonstration. Remember the Messerli & Kramer case, and the AGO's effort to remove Judge Leary? The judge included information in his filings indicating that Hatch (in his affidavit), at best, failed to disclose highly relevant information in a misleading manner. At worst, the judge's filings indicate that someone may have manipulated the phone records Hatch submitted to support his claim that he made one very short call to the judge. Well, if that happens when a judge is involved, what might happen with the personnel file of a mere staffer? And that is precisely why so many people are afraid to speak out publicly about what has been going on at the AGO for the past eight years, and about what continues there with a vengeance. Why doesn't AG Swanson just give Ferguson her file now, without making it public first? According to the news reports, no one has even told her why she was fired -- why do they need to blindside her?

Here are some more: start trusting the staff, don't set them up to fail, and be a true leader -- take the jeers AND the cheers. In my experience, Hatch/Swanson run the office in a way that makes it difficult for staff attorneys to practice law in a responsible and professional manner. Staff attorneys are given cases without sufficient resources, support, or time to properly handle them. They typically have little or no authority to make any decisions about their cases or their dealings with their client agencies, and then often have to wait days, even weeks, before getting a response from upper management about what they're permitted or supposed to do. It gets even worse during times when the chain of command is unclear (again, what is Hatch's title and who exactly is supposed to report to him?). To cover their bases, staffers can end up reporting everything up to everyone who is farther up in management. Often with a memo, or two, or three. Talk about a bureaucratic bog. The drive-by litigation strategy has also been talked about in other blogs. In such circumstances, it seems inevitable that a staff attorney is going to look sloppy, slow, or worse. If Ferguson's client agency was dissatisfied with her work, I can't help but wonder how much AGO policies may have been a factor.

Further, staffers have been pressured to simply sign things which have been ghost-written or heavily edited by Hatch or one of his inner circle, without checking the draft or edits for minor things (like factual accuracy), because Hatch, for whatever reason, doesn't want to sign his name to the document (sound familiar?). Ironically, it's usually the other way around in private practice -- the junior attorney writes the stuff and the senior attorney signs it and takes the credit.

Why does Hatch often do the reverse? You'll have to ask him, but my theory is that he does it so that if something goes wrong, he can blame the staffer (remember the David Aafedt situation)? He wants the credit, but not the accountability. After awhile, that makes working for him intolerable; law is not an exact science, yet you know he'll never have your back if things don't go as he planned. Still, he'll expect you to throw yourself on the next grenade that comes his way (and usually it's one that he inflicted on himself) and to do it with a grateful smile because he's letting you blow yourself up so spectacularly.

So, here's what I would tell AG Swanson: drain the bog, let your staff exercise the professional judgment that they are trained (and required by the lawyers' rules) to excercise, and don't set them up to fail by hogtying them, and then blame them for getting hogtied.

Finally, at the very least, please get Hatch out of the Bremer Tower. He may always be a valued advisor to you, but he doesn't know how to manage people. How many more people have to leave before that message is received?

Anonymous said...

In spite of its scrappy entrĂ©e into the recent attorney general’s office brouhaha, the formation of a labor union is the “elegant solution” to this mess or at least a fine starting place.

Unions are not about scheduled coffee breaks, rigid work schedules and ornery strike-prone employees. Unions form when the balance of power in a workplace becomes unbearable. People are clearly afraid to individually stand up to (or speak out against) Hatch or Swanson. A union provides a way for the entire staff to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to say, “Enough is enough!”

Lawyers, mediators, investigators, IT staff and legal assistants at the attorney general’s office are all “at will” employees. If they were unionized, they could voice concern when important policy decisions become too politically driven. They could expect annual evaluations and appropriate raises entirely divorced from the campaign cycle. They could firmly refuse to have their names attached to a political blog posting.

In the meantime, the Attorney General must not contradict herself. If organizing is indeed about the will of the staff, then she need not speculate publicly about legal nuances in PELRA. She need not “spin” an honest labor movement into a war against AFSCME. She need not bully, divide or intimidate her staff.

Ms. Swanson is young and so is her first term in public office. There’s nothing wrong with a “do over.” Ms. Swanson, listen to the staff. You need them on your side to create a noble government agency that makes Minnesotans (including you) proud.

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Kindly keep your postings on topic. I had to remove a couple of irrelevant comments from this thread, which is supposed to be on the topic of improving organizational management. There are other threads for other discussions elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

1.Require Attorney General state agency clients to provide a performance review that is transparent and based on measurable and qualitative outcomes.
2.Include staff surveys in the process.
3. Assign the appropriate weight overall to the satisfaction of complaining citizens.
4. Require the Attorney General to report to the Legislature more specifically how its staff resources have been allocated for the benefit of the State.
5. Have the Legislature articulate expectations for AG outcomes.
6.Send the message that government staff resources should be focused on the needs of the State government as a whole, not the needs of the current office holder to be re-elected.
7.Encourage the AG to engage in efforts that are forward-thinking, collaborative, as well as highly responsive.
Finally, in many states, the AG is required to first give notice of intent to sue.
These laws have been enacted when the AG has been perceived as abusing his or her power. Let's not go down that road.