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Minnesota attorney general asks lawmakers for $1.8 million to grow criminal division

Attorney General Keith Ellison said the additional attorneys could help take on complex criminal cases in Greater Minnesota that local prosecutors don't have the bandwidth to take.

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Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman, left, and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison address reporters remotely following the announcement of their decision to not pursue criminal charges against officers involved in the raid that killed 22-year-old Amir Locke at a Minneapolis apartment on Feb. 2, 2022.
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Thursday, May 5, made a $1.8 million ask of state lawmakers that he said would help his office bring on additional prosecutors and yield more criminal convictions in Greater Minnesota.

Ellison, a first-term Democrat, said he has proposed additional funding for his office's criminal division three years in a row with no success in the divided Statehouse.

As lawmakers move into negotiations on funding for public safety in the coming weeks, he said the extra staff could help prosecute complex criminal cases such as murder, manslaughter and human trafficking that county attorneys don't have the bandwidth to get to.

"We want to contribute even more so that we can be there on behalf of victims of serious crime in Minnesota," Ellison told reporters at the Capitol. "We're ready to do so. And if the Legislature will grant us additional resources, we will do so."

The Attorney General's Office currently has three attorneys working in its criminal division and Ellison said the current staff has been unable to meet the demand around the state.

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The criminal division is a backstop when local prosecutors need help to bring a criminal case. State prosecutors can't step in without an invitation from those local attorneys, under state law.

The $1.8 million boost would allow the division to hire seven additional prosecutors and two administrative assistants, Ellison said.

"It would put us in a position where we don't have to triage and tell people 'no,'" he said.

Minnesota House Democrats have included the additional funding in their supplemental budget proposals, meanwhile, Senate Republicans have opposed the extra funding, saying that Ellison's office got a budget increase last year.

"The attorney general had plenty of time and resources to shut down businesses last year, I think he has enough time and resources to prosecute crime now," Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said, referring to the office's enforcement of COVID-19 related state regulations.

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, on Thursday said members of a legislative conference committee would determine whether to approve the money during negotiations in the next two weeks.

Three Twin Cities metro area county attorneys flanked Ellison during his news conference and said their Greater Minnesota peers didn't have the staffing or resources that they did to bring complex criminal cases.

"I stand here in support of my colleagues who are doing the great work that they do in Greater Minnesota," Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo said. "They are fighting the battles that we in the Metro also have to face and I also have to fight but we have many resources to be able to do that. They do not when they have a major case."

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MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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