Gov. Mark Dayton’s office responded viscerally to criticism from Rep. Kurt Zellers about the recommended release of a violent sex offender, hours after Zellers called it wrongheaded and dangerous.

“He urges Rep. Zellers to finally do what he neglected to do as Speaker: pitch in and help find a better solution to this extremely difficult problem,” Deputy Chief of Staff Bob Hume said in a statement. Zellers, R-Maple Grove, is a gubernatorial candidate and former House Speaker.

The vivid public rebuke came after Zellers publicly bashed the potential release of Thomas Duvall, 58, and  delivered a letter to Attorney General Lori Swanson in support of her request to block his release.

Duvall, who was convicted three times of sexually assaulting teenage girls, and has attacked at least 60 women.

An internal panel at the state Department of Human Services has recommended a supervised discharge for Duvall. DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson did not oppose that recommendation, but asked for an independent examination of Duvall before the panel's hearing.

Gov. Mark Dayton backed Jesson on both fronts but said earlier this week that reforms were necessary. A panel of three state judges will hear arguments today on whether to hold an in-depth hearing similar to a trial on Duvall’s proposed provisional release from the 18-year-old program. If released, Duvall would be only the second person discharged from the program.

In his statement, Zellers referenced a Star Tribune report regarding one of Duvall’s victims, who said she was told by a prosecutor that Duvall would be released and it was a “done deal.”

“I am concerned by comments made publicly that Duvall’s release is a ‘done deal’ and is imminent despite these concerns.” Zellers’ letter said. “I hope the panel will hear testimony from the victims and the Attorney General, and halt the provisional release of Duvall.”

The administration called Zellers “seriously incorrect” in inferring that Duvall’s release is “imminent.” The final decision from the three-judge panel has not yet been issued and the recommended re-evaluation of Duvall that is scheduled for January.

“There is nothing ‘imminent’ in this process,” Hume's statement said. He also accused Zellers of blocking bipartisan efforts to block reform of the state's sex offender program.

“After both DFL and Republican Senators voted last spring to make changes recommended by an expert panel, and the house DFL Caucus indicated its willingness to proceed with bi-partisan support, Rep. Zellers’ Republican Caucus adamantly refused to support any of those changes,” Hume's statement said.

Here's Hume's full statement:

Bob Hume by Rachel E. Stassen-Berger