On March 21, 2023, the Minnesota Supreme Court suspended a former city prosecutor from practicing law. Among other facts, the court observed that the prosecutor had failed to act upon over 135 police reports. In re Bloomquist, File No. A21-1411 at 2. On one hand, the decision reflects why the Minnesota Elder Justice Center (MEJC) holds integrity and responsive service among its values. On the other hand, the decision also imparts one of our guiding principles: “The causes and solutions of abuse, neglect and exploitation are complex in scope and origin and stem from families and systems; therefore multidisciplinary, holistic solutions are needed.” The city prosecutor worked within a system and, according to the Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, that system placed the prosecutor “in an untenable position.” In re Bloomquist, File No. A21-1411 at 3.
Attorney Elizabeth Bloomquist served as city attorney for the City of Fairmont from 1989 to 2019. The city serves as its county seat and is approximately an hour away from more highly populated cities like Mankato, Albert Lea, and Worthington. The Minnesota-St. Paul metropolitan area is 120 miles away. The U.S. Census Bureau reported the city’s population as 10,487 following the 2020 census. The population had totaled 11,265 following the 1990 census.
In 2012, the city reallocated the responsibilities of Ms. Bloomquist’s full-time legal assistant. In re Bloomquist, File No. A21-1411 at 1. Ms. Bloomquist reported that “after her assistant was reassigned, she received only about 20% of her assistant’s time, and no other staff resources were provided to respondent to help her manage her caseload.” Id. at 5. While the population served by the City of Fairmont declined by seven percent, its personnel allocated for the city’s legal matters arguably fell by 40 percent when the legal team decreased from 2.0 FTE to 1.2 FTE. The city ended Ms. Bloomquist’s employment in 2019 “for reasons unrelated to the misconduct” considered in the Minnesota Supreme Court’s order. Id. at 2. The city now delegates its civil legal matters to a private law firm and its criminal matters to its county prosecutor.
When criminal prosecution on behalf of the City of Fairmont remained Ms. Bloomquist’s responsibility, the rights of abuse victims went unmet. Under Minn. Stat. § 611A.0315, subd. 1, a prosecutor “shall make every reasonable effort to notify a victim of domestic assault, a criminal sexual conduct offense, or harassment or stalking that the prosecutor has decided to decline prosecution of the case or to dismiss the criminal charges filed against the defendant.” Ms. Bloomquist did not deliver this notice. In re Bloomquist, File No. A21-1411 at 6-7. In many circumstances, Ms. Bloomquist’s failure to make timely decisions about prosecution lasted until after the deadlines set by statutes of limitations had passed, barring any future prosecution. Id. at 1. Without prosecutorial personnel upholding statutory duties, victims of abuse did not receive notice, public service, or justice as intended by our state legislature.
The author of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s order, Associate Justice Natalie Hudson, is not unfamiliar with the high case loads and limited resources sometimes experienced by attorneys working in the public interest. Justice Hudson represented low-income tenants while working in legal aid from 1982 to 1986. She then practiced law as an attorney for the City of St. Paul from 1992 to 1994 before working in the Office of Minnesota Attorney General. Her authorship of the order lends force to the order’s explicit message that “attorneys employed by the government [even while] having limited control over their caseloads and support staff” cannot expect a finding that such working conditions substantially mitigate breach ethical duties of diligence and communication. In re Bloomquist, File No. A21-1411 at 5.
Whether in health care or law, the performance of individual service providers is important. Likewise, whether in health care or law, the sufficiency of staff to meet expected standards is important. The need for both fuels the MEJC’s engagement in policy and professional education as well as direct service. Over the current legislative session in the state of Minnesota, MEJC has supported policies increasing funding for adult protectives services and for long-term care services, recognizing that an adequately funded and supported workforce is a workforce better equipped for serving and protecting older adults and vulnerable adults.
Laura Orr, Staff Attorney
Minnesota Elder Justice Center