By MIKE KASZUBA and RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER
Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday he learned just five days ago that state Attorney General Lori Swanson had in late July dismissed the Dorsey & Whitney law firm as the state’s bond counsel.
In a surprise move, Swanson’s office sent a July 29 letter to Dorsey & Whitney notifying one of Minnesota’s most prominent law firms that its five-decade run as the state’s bond counsel was ending. Dorsey & Whitney served as bond counsel to the Minnesota Management and Budget Office, the state’s main finance office whose commissioner reports to the governor.
Dayton and Swanson are both DFLers and the 600-lawyer law firm, headquartered in Minneapolis, includes former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale as a senior counsel.
At the State Capitol, Swanson’s office sits across the hall from the governor’s office.
“I was told about it last Friday,” Dayton said. “It’s entirely the attorney general’s decision – prerogative – under state law, and that’s well established.”
The governor said Wednesday he did not yet know the details regarding the decision, and said he could not comment on the move. “I heard from” the Minnesota Management and Budget Office, he said. “I don’t know when they were told.”
In explaining its decision, Swanson’s office said it was concerned with ethical conflicts that Dorsey & Whitney had in both representing the state and also representing private companies that had business before the state or had filed lawsuits against the state.
The state attorney general’s office also said that Dorsey & Whitney’s previous work representing tobacco companies against the state presented a “serious and irreconcilable conflict of interest” during the just-concluded state government shutdown. Because the budget solution between Dayton and Republican legislative leaders included a plan to rely on income the state gets from its lawsuit against the tobacco companies, Swanson’s office explained, it was necessary to hire another law firm to serve as bond counsel.
“No vendor of the state should have a permanent monopoly on government projects,” Swanson said in a statement issued through a spokesman.
Swanson has declined to be interviewed regarding the decision.