Former City Attorney hired to fulfill Goodhue Cty data request on Lansing investigation

dollars flowing out

More dollars are going to be flowing out the door at a time when the City of Northfield can least afford it.

Jane McWilliams, observer for the Northfield League of Women Voters, has blogged her report on Tuesday’s City Council Work Session. The last paragraph (links are mine):

Lansing investigation: Walinski reported that he had received a substantial data request from Goodhue County to be submitted by January 29. There have been 2 or 3 previous similar requests. He has asked former City Attorney Maren Swanson, because of her familiarity with the case, to review the documents for privilege and confidentiality. This will involve several thousand documents.

21 thoughts on “Former City Attorney hired to fulfill Goodhue Cty data request on Lansing investigation”

  1. The Judge, in the last court proceeding, has ordered these documents to be delivered.
    He stated that he had expected it to be done after the previous proceeding but since the parties had not complied with his direction, he was now ORDERING it to be done.
    Non-compliance would result in “contempt of court”…

    If the involved parties had delivered all they should have, and accounted for it properly, this would not be happening now.

  2. I agree Jane. It is long past time for the Council to take control. Does anyone know if the City is paying the prosecution, and how much?

  3. It’s particularly troubling where they’re prosecuting, and the City is not complying with Discovery. Wasn’t Maren Swanson still the City Atty. when this was ramping up and when Discovery was served and pending some time ago?

    These legal issues in the City of Northfield are a bit much, and it’s hard not to weigh in. There have been problems for years, but so many areas are exacerbated at the same time now. League of MN Cities cancelled its coverage of one city recently — is Northfield next?

  4. I was going to start out with “Only in Northfield could this take place” but then I considered it can probably take place in many cities or counties. This is the full force and hammer of the government coming down on someone. At what point do the thoughts of the taxpayers enter the picture? What good is coming of all this? And as Carol points out, why, if these documents were requested under Discovery, were they not delivered?

    We have a wonderful, free country with some of the best access to legal remedy in the world—-but there are times when it runs askew.

  5. Carol and Ray –

    Perhaps I should curse you for opening this old wound in our community; I’m sure most people would have preferred that you’d remained silent on the topic. However, I’ll thank you for reminding us about something that many have chosen to forget.

    When we had then-Councilor Scott Davis on the LoGroNo Radio Show, who knows how many years ago, it was not long after Al Roder suddenly burst out of an office down at City Hall where he had been meeting with Lee Lansing for 18 months and shouted, “Something’s rotten in river city”.

    I said on that show that I wanted to hear both sides of the story.

    Al Roder has now been gone for two years. We spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on Greene-Everett and we’ve spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on David Lillehaug, bringing, as Ray put it, “the full force and hammer of the government” down on Lee Lansing.

    In an effort to defend his reputation, Lee Lansing has been forced to rely on his own dollars to counter Al Roder’s accusations. However, as Carol points out, the City is apparently not complying with the judge’s order for Discovery.

    It seems to me to be an unfair fight and that the City is not fighting fairly.

    And we still haven’t heard the other side of the story.

  6. Nfld News: Northfield may keep paying for former mayor’s legal issues

    The city of Northfield, which has already shelled out an estimated $45,000 to provide documents in the state’s case against former Mayor Lee Lansing, could be hit with another attorney’s bill in the case.

    Carol Lee, the assistant Goodhue County attorney prosecuting the ethics violation case filed more than two years ago, said attorneys for both sides are waiting while Judge Joseph Bueltel considers whether to require the city to review approximately 3,200 pages of documents so it can decide which it believes should be withheld from public view. The review, Lee and city attorney Chris Hood believe, is redundant.

    1. Griff –

      I found the the News’ article, particularly the headline, at best confusing and, at worst, misleading.

      My understanding, and I’m sure there are folks more familiar with the case than me, is that Lansing’s attorney requested that the City provide some documents. The City’s attorney refused but the Judge supported Lansing’s attorney’s request and directed the City to provide the documents.

      It is my understanding that the attorneys and the Judge met again. The City had not complied with the Judge’s order. The Judge was clearly not happy and again directed the City to provide the documents, this time suggesting potential adverse impacts on the City for not fulfilling the directive.

      Now the City is, slowly, complying with the Judge’s order and complaining about the cost of supplying the documents. From what I can understand, the reason that supplying the requested documents is such a slow, and apparently expensive, process is that the City doesn’t want to hand over what I can only describe as “secret” information and is separating the secret information from the requested documents.

      I’m sure there’s a better, or at least more official in terms of legal jargon, word than “secret”. However, I think it’s a fairly useful term for this discussion.

      I just don’t quite understand what City documents are secret and must be kept from the public. Even if I could be “educated” about the City’s need for secret documents, I would have to ask “how many secret documents does the City have down there in their files”. It would seem to me that there would be, at most, only be a few secret documents, and they’d probably be kept in a special file, maybe one that was color-coded and kept in a special locked file cabinet drawer. So how hard can it be to keep the secret documents separate from the documents that the Judge ordered the City to deliver?

      Contrary to the News’ article, or at least the headline, the City is not paying for the former mayor’s legal issues. The City is paying to deliver the documents as directed by the Judge.

      Perhaps if some of the Councilors of those troubled times down at City Hall had been more interested in getting both sides of the story, we could have avoided this long, painful and expensive process.

      1. Ross:
        I’ve read that personnel records qualify as ‘secret’ documents which should not be publicly released.

        From the News:

        Some government documents are considered non-public, according to state law. The release of those containing protected personnel information could have the city facing a lawsuit.

        http://northfieldnews.com/news.php?viewStory=55115

        Perhaps, though, this is just another example of me trusting the professionals over the amateurs. So in case they’re lying to me again… can you provide any information which contradicts the News’s assertion?

      2. Thanks Patrick, that’s what I suspected. Due to your comment, I’ll refer to them as “restricted-access personnel files”.

        Again, how many personnel documents do they have down there and aren’t they physically separated from the rest of the documents? And what portion of the personnel documents are considered restricted-access by state law?

        Who is making the preliminary determination of which of the requested personnel documents are restricted-access? Is it the former or/and current city attorney? Are any other former or current city officials being consulted?

        It seems to me that the City could have turned over 80 to 90 percent of the requested documents, and held back those that, in their opinion, qualified as restricted-access personnel documents. I think that would have been a faster and cheaper approach to meeting the Judge’s order.

        Ultimately, the Judge will give the final interpretation of state law as it relates to the documents in question. I’m not a legal professional, but I believe that the Judge assures the minimum state law-mandated level of confidentiality of documents until his or her final determination.

      3. My understanding from attending several of the court proceedings is that all documents must be handed over, as directed by the judge, BUT the ‘hander-over’, be it attorney files or city files , has the right to REDACT information which might be statutorily protected, generally personnel issues.

        The judge’s first request for full submission of documents was not ‘honored’; then he had to tell the parties (city, and attorneys working for the city) that although he had expected to have his directive fulfilled, it had not been, so he was now ordering the documents he requested to be submitted. They are submitted in a redacted form. (re this issue: remember when attorneys turned in large bills to the city, some tens of thousands, for redacting?) This was about 10 months ago, as I remember. The city paid those bills, and frankly, I’m not sure why; the attorneys had been paid for their services, if their work became part of a lawsuit, whose responsibility would it be to pay for the processing/redaction of those documents?)

        The point of all the documents is: the defense has a legal right to discovery, and although the discovery materials had been ordered by the judge, they had not been provided until he threatened the parties who were not providing them, with contempt.

        You are correct, Ross, that the City has had to pay/reimburse the attorneys they hired to prosecute a case. the causation of the charge is their choice of pursuing it in the manner they did, and it is their own decision to reimburse the attorneys they hired.

        This whole subject, and the continually slanted (IMO) presentation of the story, is why I keep asking for a newspaper that adheres to traditional journalistic principles of presenting all sides of a story, allowing the public to be fully informed, and thereby assess the situation.

      4. Ross,
        I gather, then, that you don’t have any information to present that contradicts the explanation presented in the News?

      5. Sorry to jump in, Patrick, but I have a “dog ( a purebred) in this fight”…
        the problem with responding to you is that you only rely on the NFNew’s information , and only credit that as valid.
        It does not matter if a person has been at the Council meeting, or at the Court hearing, or read the pertinent documents … you find fault with, or imply, that any information NOT presented by the newspaper is either un-factual, misrepresented, untruthful, or lacking in whatever way you decide to describe it, ALTHOUGH you have not personally been present at the event.

        It’s very discouraging to be called, in effect, a liar, by you, repeatedly; especially when YOU have not witnessed the event in question, and the person you’re questioning has witnessed the event, read the court documents, whatever.

  7. Quote from the article: “The review, Lee and city attorney Chris Hood believe is redundant” .

    If they believe the review is redundant, then they believe the review has already been done by them, so why should it matter to them if the Judge requires them to determine which documents should be withheld?

    I continue to ask where are the citizens of Goodhue on this issue which is using up a heck of a lot of the money /time for their county attorneys.

  8. Patrick –

    I was not contradicting the Northfield News article. I stated that I thought the title of the article was misleading.

    The title makes it sounds like taxpayers are covering Mr. Lansing’s legal costs. In fact, taxpayers are covering Mr. Roder’s legal costs and Mr. Lansing is paying for his own legal costs.

    The article primarily deals with the cost of the bills submitted by the city’s supplemental legal firm for fulfilling the Judge’s orders. The title, and much of the article, seems to focus criticism of the cost on Mr. Lansing. I, on the other hand, have trouble understanding how turning over copies of documents in City files can cost so much.

    I think we agree that the documents of concern are restricted-access personnel documents. Personally, I think most of the documents relating to this topic (Lansing, Roder, and the Liquor Store) are probably in the Community Development Department’s files. I think that the personnel documents are a relatively small subset of the documents relating to this matter and are kept in the Human Resources Department. I certainly don’t know for sure but I think that we’re probably only talking about the personnel files of maybe two or three people in this matter so it’s an even smaller subset of the personnel files. Then the documents that MAY be legally categorized as restricted-access are an even smaller subset of the personnel files for these two or three people.

    Admittedly I’m not a highly-paid professional, but I would think that one could identify the very small subset of documents that MIGHT be legally categorized as restricted-access and set them aside. Then you could take the 80 or 90 or 99% of the documents not requiring this special handling and send them over to By All Means Graphics for copying. If you got them there first thing in the morning, I’d bet they could have them ready for you by the end of the day.

    I, too, will criticize the cost. I’ll also criticize the slow response. In the opinion of this amateur, the majority of documents could have already been delivered and reviewed and at a much lower cost.

  9. I’ll have to weigh in with some anecdotal information, and maybe I can get a quote (or participation) from a credible source, but….

    I seem to remember that former City Attorney Maren Swanson was contacted about going through the requested discovery documents to determine public vs. non-public information, because it was thought that she’d be most familiar with the information – and it required combing through some 2000-3000 PAGES.

    I don’t know whatever became of the request, but she certainly wouldn’t have any obligation to do that work for free. It’s not just a matter of the City “turning over” the information; it has to be reviewed first to be sure it doesn’t violate the law.

  10. This is not “anecdotal information”; it is direct from the disbursements attached to the March 16, 2010 City Council meeting packets:
    1. “Administration-General Fund – Greene, Espel P.L.L.P. 2.26.10 court order doc prep (lansi $21,881.64”

    (the NFNews says the cost of special attorney Cliff Greene was covered by the League of MN Cities, so possibly reimbursed to city after they paid as shown in this doc?))

    2. Same disbursements , from same City Council packet: “Administration – General Fund- 2.28.10
    Lampe, Swanson, Morisette & Heisler General legal Service-CI $10,021.75

  11. Now that I have a little more time there are some additional comments I would like to make…
    I believe I have been at all the Lansing court proceedings except one. There is a conspicuous absence of any reporter from the NFNews, unless you wish to consider the presence of their ‘city hall reporter’, Councilor Jon Denison, who has attended most of the Lansing court proceedings also.

    How should one consider the ‘reporting’ of the Lansing/Roder ‘affaire’… and indeed that is what it is, IMO, given the lack of presence of the News at the proceedings?

    Given the headline of the recent article “Northfield may keep paying for former mayor’s legal issues” (Nov 6/7, 2010) One has to wonder what the origin/point of this article is at this time.
    It begins: ” The city of Northfield which has already shelled out an estimated $45,000 to provide documents…. could be hit with another attorney’s bill in the case”.
    I think an absolutely clear statement might have said : The city of Northfield which has already had to (or is it: chosen to? ) reimburse their attorneys for supplying the court ordered documents…

    In the second paragraph,the article then goes on to quote, anecdotally I guess, since it is not in quotation marks, Carol Lee, the assistant prosecutor from Goodhue County.
    One wonders how this opinion of Ms. Lee’s was obtained… did the News Call Goodhue County to see what new issue might need to be reported on? Indeed the hearing referred to where Judge Bueltel took the matter of the additional documents under consideration was some weeks ago, in September, I think.

    One has to wonder why the News ‘stirs this pot’ every so often, rather than engaging in an actual reporting of a court proceeding which is a legitimate step in the ‘game’.

    One could also question the title of the box to the right of the article which is entitled: “COST OF LANSING’S LEGAL ISSUES” … yes, in large bold caps, complete with red arrows, red numerals, and the total in even larger , bold red numerals.
    It might be more accurate to title this box: Cost of City’s Prosecution of Former Mayor.
    That at least would put the burden of initiating the costs where the burden lies.

    There is still a legal supposition in this country of the preponderance of innocence until proven guilty, regardless of what a local newspaper may wish to purport.

  12. Today’s Nfld News: Judge defers request in Lansing ethics case

    The city, according to Lee, has spent about $45,000 hiring its former attorney to review documents it was required to send the court and assess whether they can legally be kept from public view. Lee has said she won’t use those documents at trial, instead relying on evidence gathered during the investigation of Lansing.

    On Thursday, Lee said she and the prosecution would work to keep the city’s costs from rising further. But while Lee believes the documents the defense told the judge it wants to use at trial are identical to those the city provided Lansing’s attorney, someone will still need to review the thousands of pages and put them in order. That’s expected to be the prosecution, said Lee.

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