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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Questions linger at AG's office

The simmering drama at the state attorney general's office reached a climax of sorts yesterday with the abrupt resignation of former attorney general Mike Hatch, but by no means did the saga reach its conclusion. In fact, Hatch's departure probably raised more questions than it answered:

-- Where will Hatch land? Given his reputation as a volatile personality, will a private firm be reluctant to take a chance on him? Or will his obvious legal skills overcome reservations about his demeanor?

-- What will Hatch's role be as the AGO moves forward? His status as a mentor to Lori Swanson is well known. Will he try -- and will he be allowed -- to pull strings behind the scenes?

-- What will change in the AG's office? According to some insiders, Lori Swanson, not Hatch, was the one spending 14-hour days vetting every bit of correspondence that went out of Bremer Tower. Will the new situation allow her to focus on the job she was actually elected to do?

-- With Hatch out and the AGO struggling to replace staff, will recent defectors be welcomed back? Will they want to come back?

-- How will this shake-up affect the office's credibility, if at all? Will the administrative dysfunction that's come to light affect the AGO's ability to effectively pursue important cases?

-- What of the two weeks' notice given by Hatch? Was he strictly following procedure, or will he see this as an opportunity to settle lingering scores before leaving?

-- What's to become of Swanson's political career? A man who nearly became governor was willing to fall on his sword for her. Is that a tribute to how she's being groomed for bigger things?

-- How will the Swanson-AFSCME drama play out? It was the pretext for the public airing of the AGO story to start with, and now it seems to have been placed on the back burner. Will the unionizing efforts in the office pan out, and will Swanson and local AFCSME leader Elliot Seide make peace?

As the AGO story disappears from mainstream news sources, it's easy to see these lingering questions as so much inside-baseball speculation that only law geeks would care about. But in fact, how it plays out from here might be the most important stage in the whole tale.

What do you think will happen?


Paul L said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

My impression is that while Hatch's departure will improve things in the Bremer Tower to a certain degree, what is really needed is substantive changes in Swanson's management policies and procedures. She needs to have some, for starters, other than "do what you're told without asking why or I'll fire you". She needs to implement policies that are based on common sense and sound human resources principles. But from what I've seen, I don't think she's capable of recognizing the need, much less acting on it, despite the fact that the ceiling is still caving in on her. Her capacity for denial, much like Mike's, is bottomless. While the AGO is a political office and so politics will always play a part in it, the Hatch/Swanson regime has amply demonstrated why the staff attorneys need some insulation from the politician in charge -- they need to be able to practice law in an ethical, professional manner, free of pressure from a boss who's biggest concern is the next headline and/or who worries constantly about an actual or potential political opponent gaining some imagined advantage thru the workings of a client state agency. And that's true whether the boss is a DFL-er or a Republican or Independent or whatever. You would not believe some of the contortions staff must go through just to try to practice law in a rational way and provide proper legal services to their client agencies, and to the State of Minnesota. So, I hope the organizing effort contiues to pick up speed, and the Legislature maintains the fortitude to do the right thing and allow the staff to act to protect the integrity of the AGO, since the boss has gone AWOL on that point. And though the press, and maybe the public too, might think the story is over, in many ways it's actually only just begun. Thank you, Mr. Cohen, for your attention to the situation.

Anonymous said...

We are posting on behalf of the core group of staff currently trying to organize a union in the attorney general’s office. Mike Hatch may have resigned yesterday, but the problems with the very structure of the attorney general’s office remain. In our collective years at the office, we have become authorities on our subject matters and we have earned the respect of our colleagues. We have put these achievements at risk attempting to unionize the attorney general’s office knowing change is often met with fierce resistance. But most of us also know that the power dynamics in the attorney general’s office are askew and that something profound needs to be done. The risk is worth it.

The unclassified staff of the attorney general’s office is made up of attorneys, paralegals, investigators, mediators, consumer advocates and IT professionals—many who have served twenty or more years on staff. We can discern no public interest reason why such a large number of attorneys and legal assistants should be at-will employees. We believe the citizens and state agencies will be better served if the dedicated and highly experienced non-management staff was not serving “at the pleasure” of an elected official. We hope the people of Minnesota see this as a valuable goal, too.

Quite simply, we are asking for normal, predictable processes for dealing with basic management issues like communication, termination, evaluation, salary adjustments, performance matters, and so on. Additionally, we would like to know that we can use the knowledge we have amassed over our years of service to help guide office decision making and that that information will be valued and weighed appropriately. We want to know that we can decline political requests without fear of retribution.

We are the largest public law firm in Minnesota without any job protection; the Hennepin and Ramsey County Attorneys Offices are organized, as are the county and state public defenders offices and the City Attorneys Offices of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The St. Louis County Attorney’s Office recently organized under AFSCME. Even the US Attorney’s Office, which has been under scrutiny for the firings of several state US Attorneys, offers job protection much of its non-management staff.

Attorney General Lori Swanson states, and we agree, that it is not the employer’s role to decide whether her employees should organize, and who should represent them. However, Ms. Swanson has declined to publicly state that she will recognize her employees as a bargaining unit if a majority count is achieved. It would be perfectly appropriate to make that statement and to support legislation to amend PELRA to apply to the AGO employees. What better legacy for a DFLer than to see PELRA expanded under her watch, and with her help?

We believe that a public statement from Ms. Swanson is necessary, and would do two things. First, it will show that she continues to support labor today with the same enthusiasm as she did when she sought, and obtained, the labor endorsement. Certainly she owes the unions and its members that much. Second, it will clear the air and allow her employees, both attorneys and legal assistants, to make up their own minds as to whether they want union representation, without fear that she will fight them if they choose to stand up.

We are in the process of gathering cards. We ask AG staff to step forward and sign on. We will ask Ms. Swanson to work with us on this historic project, we will negotiate fair and reasonable terms in our contract, and we will continue to work hard for our clients—the citizens and agencies of the State of Minnesota.

Anonymous said...

The union offer sounds like a pretty good offer to me.

Anonymous said...

I think a good first step for Swanson in seeking to restore integrity in the AG’s office would be to get to the bottom of the flurry of postings on this blog under the names of members of her staff during the working day on Wednesday, April 25. Are we to believe that all of these people just happened to become motivated to do blog postings supporting their bosses, Swanson and Hatch, on that same day and then did so during the work day? It is more than a little curious that the posting in the name of Mark Ireland occurred at 10:17 a.m. on April 25. Beginning at 10 a.m. that day and continuing until about 11:30, Mr. Ireland was in a meeting concerning a piece of legislation, HF131 clarifying use of social security numbers, with a number of persons from outside the AG’s office. He was not making a blog posting during that time.

I request that both Swanson and Hatch publicly state that they have no knowledge that (a) anyone other than the purported authors drafted the blog postings, (b) anyone other than the purported authors posted the statements and (c) any management staff of the AG’s office (including Hatch) requested or suggested that the authors make the postings.

Furthermore, consistent with Swanson’s and Hatch’s past practice of running a “tight ship” (a euphemism, of course), I request that Swanson investigate whether any of her management staff have been involved in writing or editing the favorable blog postings, arranging for the posting of them, or soliciting staff to make such postings and that any management staff who have done so be informed that their services are no longer required. They should turn in their keys and access cards and leave the building immediately, per past practice. They should not be given the option of “two week notice,” as Hatch gave himself in his recent resignation letter (which, I must say, was “fantastic”).


Anonymous said...

I received a letter from Lori Swanson today inviting me to a fundraising event to be held on May 20, 2007, at the home of Mike and Patti Hatch. I am totally committed to the mission of the office of the Attorney General. Lori is so talented and, as a bonus, has Mike Hatch to advise her. Yet, I respect the fact that the voters elected Lori Swanson. I know that during the fall campaign, Mike helped her out by encouraging his supporters to also display her lawn signs, for instance. This is so cool, in light of his committment to the women in his life. The man is an amazing feminist.
I just wonder, as an employee of the state, whether this is standard practice to ask state employees for contributions? I don't know if there are any rules that give guidance. But, knowing that Mike and Lori are both on task and dealing with the important issues of the day, truly motivates me to work for the state.

Anonymous said...

the effort to sign the majority of attorneys in the office of the Mn Attorney General has been accomplished.