In an unusual joint announcement, chief prosecutors in Ramsey, Washington, Anoka and Carver counties have said that they all plan to seek re-election this fall.
John Choi in Ramsey County, Pete Orput in Washington County, Tony Palumbo in Anoka County and Mark Metz in Carver County were each elected to the position of County Attorney for the first time in 2010, marking a sweeping change in criminal justice leadership across the Twin Cities.
Their announcement this week to run again underscores the close working relationships the four have forged since taking office to address criminal justice issues, Orput said.
All were experienced prosecutors when elected, but their roles as administrators posed a new challenge, Orput added.
“We had never been county attorneys before,” he said. “We just naturally hit it off. We’ve had a lot of ideas, and we’ve shared those ideas.”
The county attorneys, along with veteran chief prosecutors such as Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, meet frequently. The issues they confront don’t end at county borders, Orput said, and the sharing of ideas has been valuable.
Since taking office, each has established a veteran’s court or veteran’s justice initiative, taken steps to target the sex trafficking of children and launched efforts to thwart abuse of the elderly. “The working relationships we’ve formed together have been able to demonstrate real results for our communities,” Choi added.
Such cooperation is not unusual across the state but has been particularly valuable in recent years, added John Kingrey, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. In 2010 alone, 25 percent of the chief prosecutors in the state’s 87 counties were new to the job.
Kingrey’s group has a mentorship program that pairs new county attorneys with more seasoned prosecutors who can offer insight on handling civil and criminal cases.
Choi, Palumbo and Orput replaced longtime incumbents in 2010. Choi, former city attorney for St. Paul, succeeded Susan Gaertner, who held office for 16 years. Palumbo, a one-time assistant county attorney, succeeded Robert M.A. Johnson after Johnson and his father, Robert W. Johnson, held the position for a combined 60 years. Orput, formerly a prosecutor in Hennepin County, took over the Washington County job that was held for 12 years by Doug Johnson.
Metz, another former assistant county attorney, defeated Jim Keeler after Keeler had been appointed to serve the remaining three years of Michael Fahey’s term after Fahey was appointed a judge.