Minister of Justice
The Fillmore County Attorney's office prosecutes many types of crimes. As prosecutor, the County Attorney acts as a minister of justice whose obligation is to guard the rights of the accused as well as to enforce the rights of the public. The duty of a prosecutor is to see that justice is done on behalf of both the victim and the defendant. Therefore, a prosecutor does not "represent" the victim. A prosecutor represents the public interest and the sovereign and the prosecutor's goal is to see that justice is done. This places a special burden on prosecutors because they should prosecute with earnestness and vigor, but must refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction. If a prosecutor abdicates his or her role as a minister of justice, the grand jury cannot serve its function of standing as a buffer between the state and the accused. Minnesota Supreme Court 2006
The County Attorney primarily prosecutes felony crimes (crimes which carry a maximum penalty of more than one year in prison) which occur within Fillmore County. Examples of these crimes include murder, sexual assault, drug offenses, serious property offenses, and child abuse. Misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors (crimes which carry a maximum penalty of less than one year) are the primary responsibility of city attorneys in some metropolitan and greater Minnesota areas, but may also be prosecuted by County Attorneys. Prosecution involves advising law enforcement during the investigation phase, reviewing police reports and evidence, filing criminal complaints, presenting cases before a grand jury, representing the State in court hearings and trials, making sentencing recommendations, and enforcing conditions of probation.
The County Attorney is also the prosecutor in all cases involving juvenile offenders. These range from curfew and traffic violations to the most serious felony criminal behavior. County Attorneys may also offer diversion programs which allow juvenile offenders to receive consequences involving minor offenses without going to court. These programs are intended to hold the juvenile accountable and often include an educational component to reduce repeat offenses. Due to public safety concerns, for more serious offenses the County Attorney may ask the Court to certify a juvenile to stand trial as an adult. Upon conviction, the juvenile could then receive all potential adult sanctions, including a prison sentence.
Before the victim services advocate becomes involved in a case, the Fillmore County Attorney provides assistance and support to the victims and witnesses who play a vital role in the criminal justice system. The County Attorney advises crime victims of their legal rights and will submit any restitution requests for losses suffered.
Pursuant to Minn. Stat. 388.051, the County Attorney gives legal opinions and advice to the Fillmore County Board. The County Attorney is not authorized to provide civil legal advice to private citizens or businesses in his or her capacity as County Attorney. As the legal advisor for the County, the County Attorney serves in a role that is similar to that of an in-house corporate counsel. The County Attorney provides legal advice to the County Board and Departments in areas involving waste management, contract review and enforcement, defending challenges to property tax values, enforcing County Zoning environmental or health ordinances, and forfeiting property used in connection with criminal activity. Additionally, the County Attorney's Office also assists the County in buying property, negotiating leases and contracts, and in defending against personal injury, workers' compensation, employment, civil rights and other lawsuits.
The Fillmore County Attorney also advises Fillmore County Human Services on matters involving adult and child protection, guardianships and conservatorships, and administration of various types of public assistance. The County Attorney's Office also prosecutes Children in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) cases, Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) cases, guardianship and conservatorship cases, mental illness or chemically dependent cases, mentally ill and dangerous cases, sex offender commitment cases and provides legal advice on administrative licensing for suspensions or revocations.
Child Protection: The County Attorney initiates CHIPS (Child in Need of Protection or Services) petitions to protect abused or neglected children in the county. The County Attorney starts legal proceedings to protect the health and safety of vulnerable adults within the county when they are in need of assistance.
Judicial Commitments: The County Attorney also files involuntary commitment actions to provide necessary treatment for individuals who are mentally ill, chemically dependent or mentally disabled.
Child Support: When a family is receiving public assistance, the County Attorney brings actions to obtain or enforce child support obligations, or to establish the paternity of a child, in order to obtain reimbursement for assistance and other costs to the taxpayers. Parents not receiving federal or state monetary assistance may also apply for and receive these child support enforcement or paternity establishment services from the County Attorney at a minimal cost.
Child Support Enforcement
Under federal law (Part D, Title IV of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. sec. 651 et seq.), Minnesota maintains a county-based child support enforcement program providing services in both public assistance and non-public assistance cases. The County Attorney's Office provides legal services for the Fillmore County Child Support and Recovery Unit, the public authority for child support in Fillmore County. These services include establishing paternity, child support modification, contempt proceedings, and other enforcement actions.
Pursuing Improvement and Prevention
The Fillmore County Attorney's Office plays an important role in seeking new laws to strengthen law enforcement, criminal justice, child protection, victims' rights, adult protection, zoning, and other areas. The County Attorney also meets and cooperates with various agencies and local groups in an effort to prevent or reduce crime or address other concerns in the local communities and statewide.