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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

AG's Office revisited

Last week, we got an interesting comment on the departures at the AG’s Office, which have been discussed extensively on this blog:

“Experienced attorneys continue to leave the AG's Office, and with few exceptions, they are being replaced by inexperienced attorneys. More important still, because of the departures, these new attorneys, whatever their innate abilities, have few mentors to guide them. Some divisions are decimated. There is now no Consumer Enforcement division at the AG's Office. … Consumer cases are being passed off on lawyers in other divisions who are unable to handle them, and older cases are being settled for next to nothing or are being dropped altogether. Every civil defense firm in Minnesota now knows that the best way to handle an AG investigation or lawsuit is to string it out, not settle at a high cost. Eventually the AG will throw in the towel.”

The commenter also takes the media to task for its coverage of the AG’s dispute:

One more point. The local media needs to do its job. The story of the AG's Office did not end with the departure of Mike Hatch. Two months ago, when the story broke, former deputies and division managers with firsthand knowledge of the actions of Hatch and Swanson (actions that would shock the complacency of Minnesotans who like to boast that they live in a good-government state) were beginning to talk. Inexplicably and inexcusably, the press stopped asking questions. ….
(Click here for the full text of the comment)

There are a couple of issues implicated in this comment. The departures for the first few months of 2007 were fairly well chronicled in the articles on the issues at the AG’s Office in late April and early May. Minnesota Lawyer checked in with the union probably about a month after Hatch left, but it was reticent to say much at that point other than that it was then still collecting signatures. It has been mentioned here and elsewhere that the Consumer Enforcement Division has been particularly impacted by the departures.

It’s always a balance how much you update a story. One wants to give the current AG, Lori Swanson, a chance to clean things up now that the morale issues have come out into the light and her old boss, Mike Hatch, has left. Swanson is a constitutionally elected officer who still has three-and-a-half years left in her term, so one would hope she will now take advantage of that time to carve out her own legacy. How she deals with the unionization attempt and whether she is able to restore morale will go a long way in determining what kind of employees the office will be able to attract and retain. In turn, good employees can do a lot of good things that will help restore her office’s reputation.

While the office has lost a lot of high-level talent, there are still many talented folks who remain. The situation needs to be set right before any more of those good folks escape. This task will not be easy. Once you begin with a rocky start, regaining the trust and confidence of your subordinates can be a Herculean task. But it’s not impossible. And, despite the obvious obstacles, we still have hope that Swanson will be able to rise to the occasion. And we will, of course, continue to monitor the situation at the office.

That said, I must agree with the commenter’s second point that the media has not done its job in handling and following up with the issues at the AG’s Office. I thought the Pioneer Press did an excellent job reporting the initial story, and Ruben Rosario had an excellent and classy column calling for Hatch to move on. However, as the commenter mentions, there was little follow up after Hatch left. The Star Tribune news coverage, on the other hand, has been anemic throughout, which is disappointing to say the least given that it is the state’s largest newspaper. The only time I recall the Star Tribune editorializing on the issues at the AG’s Office was in a rant by columnist Nick Coleman referring to Hatch throughout as “mad Mike” -- and that wasn’t even published until after Hatch announced he was leaving. (If the AG’s Office had been run by Republicans, one wonders whether the Star Tribune’s editorial board would have responded with such deafening silence.) Sadly, most of these events occurred before the Star Tribune substantially reduced its newsroom size, so staffing excuses are not available.

We at this blog and at Minnesota Lawyer will continue to keep a vigilant eye on what is happening at the AG’s Office while striving to give the office a fair chance to right itself. All of you who participate in this blog have been a valuable part of our efforts, and we encourage you to continue to keep us updated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We are the group of employees of the Attorney General's Office who have been working toward union status for all unclassified staff in the Office. In spite of the massive staff exodus (now numbering nearly 50), a majority of the attorneys in the Office have signed cards to ask for union representation this May.

Through AFSCME we submitted a request for an official employee list so that the Bureau of Mediation Services can begin the process of certifying our group. Now, two full months later, and the Attorney General has yet to provide such a basic list. She has repeatedly warded off questions demanding her position on the effort saying that the decision to unionize depends on the will of the staff. Well, the staff has spoken, Lori. Why are you withholding the required information?

We call on Ms. Swanson to step forward, to work collaboratively with us and to meet and confer on issues of our employment. As a labor endorsed elected official who continues to advocate and rally for labor issues, we discern no reason why she is so reluctant to recognize our status. Whether she supports our efforts or opposes them, she must allow the process to move ahead.

The political games and roadblocks are unacceptable. Turn over the staff list, Ms. Swanson.