The former attorney general's departure comes at a turbulent time for the office.
In the latest twist of a passionate and often pugnacious public career, former Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch resigned Tuesday from a high-ranking position in the office he once led. His exit followed the departure of dozens of lawyers from the attorney general's office this year amid complaints about morale and questions about Hatch's role in management.
He said in a public letter to Attorney General Lori Swanson that he was stepping down to spare her blame for actions he took during his tenure as attorney general. He provided no specifics about those actions.
However, one longtime deputy who left this year speculated that Hatch's record of slashing his staff after he became attorney general in 1999 may have cast him as a force behind recent departures under Swanson.
Another former high-ranking assistant who left two weeks ago said morale had deteriorated recently.
"It was bad," said Brad Delapena, an assistant attorney general since 2000. "By December 2006 it had been worse than any time I had been there. I didn't see anything between December of 2006 and the time I left in April that made it any better."
As for what role Swanson or Hatch had in contributing to morale problems, Delapena said, "I viewed them as the administration. I was never able to sort out where the negative influence was coming from."
Swanson got into hot water on her own last week in a dispute with a political ally, the state's largest public employees union, over her alleged obstruction of organizing efforts inside the attorney general's office. The union, which complained of a hostile work atmosphere in the office, said Tuesday that Hatch's resignation "appears to be a first step" in improving working conditions but doesn't solve the problem. It has called on Swanson to support the organizing effort.
"Our issues have always been with Attorney General Swanson," said spokeswoman Jennifer Lovaasen of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Neither Hatch nor Swanson was immediately available to comment on his resignation beyond his letter.
Departures since election
Swanson became a lieutenant of Hatch's soon after he took office in 1999. She issued a brief statement Tuesday calling him "one of the most talented, successful and hard-working lawyers I know."
Thirty-six staff members, about 10 percent of the office, have departed since Swanson took over as attorney general in January. The departures occurred after Swanson placed Hatch, accused of being tough on his staff during his tenure as attorney general, in a top management position with a salary of nearly $107,000.
About half of those who have left since Jan. 1 are lawyers, including such longtime Hatch associates as former Chief Deputy Kristine Eiden, who said in an interview that she had planned before last fall's election to leave.
Delapena, another departed lawyer, said that Hatch had a reputation for a quick temper but that he got along with Hatch and Swanson. But Delapena said the office has placed too high a priority on minor matters since Swanson took over.
"The most general problem was a lack of respect for the lawyers in the office who wanted to do the work of lawyers," said Delapena. As an example, he cited an overemphasis on answering citizen mail, a time-consuming exercise that detracted from more important duties for lawyers.
Though he said it is unclear what role Hatch played recently in formulating office policies, "I still have no reason to believe that Lori wasn't approving everything."
In his resignation letter to Swanson, Hatch referred to recent changes in the office and how they might be associated with him.
"Because of my presence in your administration, it is apparent that changes I made during my administration are unfairly being attributed to you."