A district court judge has rejected requests for tenant information brought by attorneys for a Minneapolis landlord accused of perjury, saying the information they sought is irrelevant.
Stephen Frenz, once one of the largest landlords in the city, is accused of submitting fraudulent leases to a Hennepin County housing court referee and then asserting their authenticity in an affidavit during a 2016 lawsuit brought by tenants at a south Minneapolis apartment building over poor conditions.
The case is being overseen by Robert A. Awsumb, a Ramsey County judge who was brought in to avoid a conflict of interest, since the perjury accusations were first raised by a Hennepin County housing court referee who presided in the tenants’ case.
Frenz’s criminal defense attorneys, Robert Sicoli and Paul Engh, had asked Awsumb to order prosecutors to provide the eviction history of tenants who may testify against him at his perjury trial, any evidence of tenants’ participation in a separate class-action suit against him, and the names of lawyers of the Faegre Baker Daniels law firm who contributed to attorney Mike Freeman’s re-election campaign for county attorney.
Freeman’s office is prosecuting Frenz and Faegre lawyers represented tenants pro bono in the original tenants’ rights case where the alleged perjury occurred.
Awsumb wrote that eviction information about tenants is neither relevant or related to Frenz’s guilt or innocence, and eviction actions filed in court are accessible to the public.
Frenz’s attorneys also sought evidence of tenants’ participation in a separate class-action suit that was brought against him and Spiros Zorbalas, the co-owner of Frenz’s apartment buildings.
“Any evidence of tenants’ willingness or rationales for participating in the companion civil matter is not sufficiently relevant to this criminal prosecution,” Awsumb wrote.
The Frenz defense team also said it wanted any communications between the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, the Faegre firm, the Minneapolis police department, the Minneapolis City Council and staff and the mayor’s office.
Awsumb said communications with the council and mayor’s officer were outside the scope of the case and any alleged political implications were irrelevant. But he said Faegre’s attorneys might be called to testify in the case, and defense attorneys should be permitted to see communications between Faegre, the county attorney’s office and police directly related to the perjury charge.
Awsumb also rejected the defense’s requests for evidence of campaign contributions of the Faegre firm to Freeman.
“Discovery rules are not meant to be used for ‘fishing expeditions,’ ” Awsumb wrote.