Board picks Hanson as new Beltrami County Attorney
BEMIDJI—Current Clearwater County Attorney David Hanson was chosen Tuesday by the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners to serve as the next Beltrami County Attorney.
The commissioners spent the evening questioning the three candidates, Katie Nolting, Clifford Wardlaw and Hanson, and voted 3-2 to select Hanson to fill the vacancy left by now-judge Annie Claesson-Huseby.
Commissioners Jim Lucachick, Reed Olson and Tim Sumner voted for Hanson, while commissioners Richard Anderson and Keith Winger voted against the appointment.
According to state statute, in the event of a vacancy in the county attorney's office, the first or chief assistant in the department is able to perform all of the duties until the county board fills the position by appointment. Assistant Beltrami County Attorney Dave Frank has filled the position while a committee created by the county board works to name a successor.
Before the vote, Winger said he felt that the county board was doing Beltrami County a disservice by not selecting Wardlaw, who currently works for the U.S. Attorney's Office. Each commissioner preferred either Wardlaw or Hanson.
"I think (Hanson) would be a great fit for the county," Olson said.
Each candidate was given 55 minutes to answer 13 questions from the commissioners.
Hanson said his current job has prepared him well for the Beltrami County position.
"I am a county attorney," said Hanson, who was born and raised in Beltrami County. "I have every bit of expertise necessary to do the job, and I can start from Day 1."
After sitting in on a county board meeting, Hanson told the commissioners he would be prepared to deal with any civil law issues that impact county departments. He already deals with similar issues in Clearwater County, Hanson said, adding that his six years as a private attorney gave him additional experience with civil issues.
Clearwater County's proximity to White Earth and Red Lake have also prepared Hanson for Beltrami County's demographics.
"As far as working with a diverse population, it's what I do on a daily basis," he said. "Red Lake is a sovereign nation and I respect that. I have no issue with that."
Hanson referred to his knowledge of child protection and the Indian Child Welfare Act as "extensive," and echoed his fellow candidates' views on the opioid epidemic.
"There's a shift that I welcome in this country, that drug users are not, per say, criminals, they're more victims," Hanson said. "The drug pushers are more the criminals."
Hanson, who graduated from Bemidji State University and received his law degree from the University of St. Thomas in the Twin Cities, ran against Claesson-Huseby in 2014 and received more than 6,000 votes.
Nolting, a 12-year veteran of the Beltrami County Attorney's Office, emphasized her experience and community connections during the interview. Nolting has spent her entire career with the office and currently works as an assistant county attorney.
"At this point, having been in the office for almost 12 years, I feel like I am at the point where I would be able to walk in and feel very comfortable leading the office," Nolting said. "I am a leader in the office."
Nolting has handled guardianship petitions, civil commitments and child protection cases, and prosecuted both adults and juveniles.
"Kids have really been my strong point and my passion," Nolting said. "I've taken on a lot of caseloads in the office that have been kind of the neglected stepchild of the office, from guardianships and conservatorships, and I really have been able to put them to the forefront."
Nolting said her experience handling child support cases has prepared her to work with Red Lake, as well as Beltrami County's significant Native American population. Nolting helped the state develop the system used to transfer child support cases to the Red Lake Tribal Court, which is still used today.
"In regard to understanding how the Red Lake sovereignty factors into decisions made in Beltrami County, I understand that Red Lake, they make the decisions about what's best for their tribal members and they need to do that," Nolting said. "Beltrami County is going to continue to do what Beltrami feels is best for the citizens of Beltrami County."
Wardlaw, an assistant U.S. attorney for Minnesota, touted his experience prosecuting crimes that come out of Indian Country. Wardlaw has worked in Hennepin County, Red Lake and Iraq, and has experience prosecuting serious drug offenses.
"I don't have any problems with very aggressive prosecution of drug dealers," Wardlaw said. But he focused on the importance of identifying the difference between dangerous drug dealers and people with chemical dependency issues, and responding with drug treatment.
Wardlaw was also confident in his ability to handle public controversy and conflict, citing his time working in Iraq. He said that, despite the United States' less-than-stellar reputation there, he focused on the issues at hand.
If selected by the commissioners, Wardlaw said he would make sure he was available to the public, and would set aside a regular time to meet with everyday citizens and hear their concerns.
"As county attorney I'm going to listen," he said. "If I get the position, one of the things I will do is have an open period of time so that citizens come in."
Wardlaw committed to spending the foreseeable future in Beltrami County, and said he would run for the county attorney positions when the interim period is up, if selected.
"I spent 30 years getting ready for this position, this would be the pinnacle of my career," he said. "I had the opportunity to practice at the county level and the federal level, and I certainly feel more comfortable at the county level, where I feel like more justice is done."