Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman will enter treatment for alcohol abuse Monday and expects to return to work no later than mid-June, according to a statement he issued Friday.
Freeman, 71, abruptly announced last week that, after a conference with his doctor, he would take a leave to focus on his health. He announced the decision a day after sources said he had been acting strangely at a meeting in north Minneapolis.
In the written statement released Friday by his office spokesman, Freeman said that since he announced his leave he has been treated for high blood pressure and undergone an assessment for alcohol use.
He said he plans to enter treatment Monday, though he didn’t say where — only that the program is “well-respected” — and asked that “the news media and the people of Hennepin County … respect my need for privacy so I can focus on my recovery.”
Freeman said that he and a licensed assessor agreed that he needed treatment after he was “evaluated for alcohol issues.”
He added that he’s determined to “reclaim” his health, and that “barring any unforeseen issues, my goal is to return to work by no later than mid-June.”
Many people in elected office have gone through treatment and been open about their struggles with alcohol and chemical dependency, including former Gov. Mark Dayton and former President George W. Bush.
The group Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers formed to help those in the legal profession.
Reaction on Friday to Freeman’s announcement was mostly supportive.
Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty said that those who struggle with alcoholism deserve compassion and support.
“I believe that Mike’s willingness to publicly share his personal journey will help remove the stigma too often associated with any kind of substance abuse, particularly in the criminal justice system,” she said.
Hennepin County Board Chairwoman Marion Greene said that she wished Freeman “well in his journey towards wellness. It’s heartening to hear his determination to reclaim his health.”
County Commissioner Mike Opat, who has known Freeman for years, was similarly encouraging.
“If he recognizes he’s got a problem, it’s a positive step,” Opat said. “I wish him all the best.”
Retired Hennepin County Judge Gary Larson had been on the bench for four years when he went into a residential treatment program for alcoholism, paying cash and not telling anyone.
That was 31 years ago and Larson has been sober ever since.
“I was terrified,” he said. But within five years, he said, “I was running around, telling everyone.”
Larson said he remains part of a 12-step program, attends meetings at least once a week and is active in supporting other judges and lawyers through the process.
“I’m very happy for him,” Larson said of Freeman’s decision.
Since Freeman's surprise announcement last week, his behavior and whereabouts have been a focus of speculation.
Three sources told the Star Tribune that the county’s top prosecutor had behaved “erratically” at a meeting in north Minneapolis, including slapping a police squad car and making a joke about the recent prosecution of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor.
The Noor trial showcased divisions between the Minneapolis police and Freeman’s office, when prosecutors raised issues during the trial about police behavior and competence.
Police officials declined to comment Friday on Freeman’s statement.
Lt. Bob Kroll, the sometimes combative president of the union that represents the city’s rank-and-file officers, said: “Given the strained relationship, our department looks forward to working with new leadership, and we wish the county attorney the best in his recovery.”
David Brown and Lolita Ulloa, longtime deputies for the office’s criminal and civil divisions respectively, will run the office while Freeman is on leave.
“Everyone should have the same faith I have in the excellent staff and strong management of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to carry on the important work in my absence,” Freeman said.
Meanwhile, he said he was already seeing progress with his blood pressure.
“I am pleased that medication, stress reduction and sleep have stabilized my unacceptably high blood pressure,” Freeman said. “It was good news but I still have work to do.”
Staff writers David Chanen and Libor Jany contributed to this report.