Attorney General Ellison's request for more criminal prosecutors to become law upon House passage
House passage comes after Senate passage last week — and after four years of requests by AG Ellison
February 7, 2023
February 6, 2023 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s longstanding request for seven more full-time criminal prosecutors in his office will finally become law after the Minnesota House of Representatives passed HF 29, authored by Rep. John Huot, on a bipartisan vote this evening. On January 28, the Minnesota Senate passed companion bill SF 33, authored by Sen. Erin Murphy, also on a bipartisan vote. The bill now goes to Governor Tim Walz, a strong supporter of this request, for his signature.
The current legislative session marks the fourth time Attorney General Ellison has requested funding for these positions from the Legislature. In 2019, 2021, and 2022, the House of Representatives passed his request after Governor Tim Walz included it in his proposed budgets, but each time, the Senate refused to act on it and the proposal died.
The funding will bring the number of full-time prosecutors in Attorney General Ellison’s office from the current three to 10, up from just one when Attorney General Ellison first took office in 2019. The request has had the strong support of county attorneys and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association each year Attorney General Ellison has proposed it, including formal support this year from the county attorneys of Clearwater, Cook, Cottonwood, Freeborn, and Winona Counties and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.
“The final passage of this bill is a long time coming. It is a yes to county attorneys, communities, and victims who need justice and closure. It’s a yes to the people of Minnesota. I’m very grateful to Representative Huot and Senator Murphy for authoring the bill, to Speaker Hortman, Majority Leader Long, and Majority Leader Dziedzic for making a priority of it, to Governor Walz for his steadfast support for the last four years, and above all to county attorneys for the trust they place in us and the partnership we’ve built together. With these resources, I’m looking forward to greatly expanding our partnership and helping them bring more justice to our communities,” Attorney General Ellison said.
“It is up to us to make sure we have working systems in place to hold offenders accountable and ensure safety for all Minnesotans,” said Representative John Huot, author of the House bill. “With today’s bill passage, we’re one step closer to closing critical funding gaps needed to address and prosecute violent crime.”
Minnesota’s 87 county attorneys have original jurisdiction over the charging and prosecution of almost all felonies in Minnesota. Under Minnesota Statutes Sec. 8.01, however, a county attorney may refer a criminal case for review, charging, or prosecution to the Attorney General. It is primarily county attorneys from greater Minnesota that ask the Attorney General’s Office for this help when serious crimes take place in their communities, as more than half of county attorney offices in Minnesota — 44 out of 87 — have staffs of three attorneys or fewer and may lack capacity to prosecute a relatively rare serious violent crime when one occurs in their communities.
Since 2019, Attorney General Ellison’s office has accepted 47 cases of serious violent crime from 22 counties — all but two in Greater Minnesota — for review, charging, or prosecution when those counties requested the Attorney General’s help under the law. To date, the Attorney General’s Office has not lost a single one of those cases.
Twenty-five years ago, the Criminal Division of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office had 12 full-time prosecutors who were able to prosecute not only cases of serious violent crime upon the request of county attorneys, but other cases of drug crime, gang crime, white-collar crime, and environmental crime as well. That number of full-time prosecutors had been whittled down to one, however, by the time Attorney General Ellison took office in 2019, which meant that over time, county attorneys had simply stopped asking the Attorney General’s Office to assist with any but the most serious violent crimes. In the last four years, Attorney General Ellison has used existing resources to raise the number of full-time prosecutors from one to three, but a legislative appropriation has been necessary to restore the capacity of the Office to meet county attorneys’ needs and bring justice to crime victims.
This staffing trend in the Criminal Division mirrors overall staffing trends in the Attorney General’s Office: 25 years ago, the Office had about 510 staff, of whom 260 were attorneys, while today, the Office has about 350 staff, of whom 150 are attorneys. Relatedly, the current General Fund appropriation to the Attorney General’s Office is worth only 65 percent of the General Fund appropriation to the Office of 30 years ago in real, inflation-adjusted dollars.