Bremer Financial Corp., which runs Minnesota's fourth-largest bank, said its revenue grew solidly in 2020 and its net income nearly held steady in a "challenging environment" that included both the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a legal battle with its owner.

The company, based in St. Paul, said its net income fell by $1 million to $155 million last year, a period when other large banks experienced much bigger drops in profit.

"Our results demonstrate solid financial performance across the company, a testament to how we are positioned for long-term success," Jeanne Crain, the company's chief executive, said in a statement.

Bremer Bank's two chief sources of revenue jumped: net interest income rose 10% to $440 million and noninterest income rose 19.5% to $153 million.

The company, which is owned largely by the Otto Bremer Trust and employees, doesn't publicly disclose detailed financial results.

It did say it distributed $79.8 million in dividends to shareholders during 2020. This includes $73.4 million to Bremer Trust; a total of $850 million since 1989, the year when a restructured legal relationship between Bremer Financial and Bremer Trust took effect.

Government records show that Bremer Bank was one of Minnesota's top facilitators in the state of forgivable loans to businesses under the Payroll Protection Program. Banks that processed those loans were paid fees by the government of up to 5% of loan value. Bremer didn't reveal how much that work contributed to its 2020 performance.

It also declined to quantify costs related to its legal battle with the trust, which has accused executives and directors of blocking efforts it made in 2019 to sell the company.

A Ramsey County District Court judge last year put that legal fight on hold after the intervention of the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, which is seeking the dismissal of the three trustees who oversee the Bremer Trust. This week, that judge, Robert Awsumb, scheduled pretrial and evidentiary hearings on that matter for September.

Awsumb previously ordered restrictions on the compensation of the trustees and took other steps he said would protect the foundation's assets while the dispute proceeded in court.

Bremer Trust trustees have argued a sale of the bank company would increase the assets of the trust, the base for its charitable contributions to organizations around the Upper Midwest. Bremer Bank is the only one in the U.S. that is owned by a charity. The trust was created by the bank's founder, Otto Bremer, to own the bank after his death in the early 1950s.

Part of the argument between the two sides is whether Otto Bremer intended the arrangement to last forever.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144