Private prosecutors hired — the latest blow to the Hennepin County Attorney’s credibility in the Trooper Londregan case

On Tuesday, April 30, the Hennepin County Board took the unusual step to “Delegate authority for the Hennepin County Attorney to approve and sign outside counsel agreements and amendments for special criminal prosecution….”

The move came in a publicly held board meeting but offered few details, which was odd given the attention this request has received, the implications of one of the largest law firms in the state needing to hire outside counsel for a case that lacks much complexity, and the amount of taxpayer funds that are apparently in play. 

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty appeared before the board to make the request, citing “resource issues” within her office that she claimed make prosecuting the case against Trooper Londregan difficult without the addition of these contract attorneys. 

According to Moriarty her office is down 10 full time attorneys in the Adult Prosecution Division which prosecutes the bulk of criminal cases in the county. (Interestingly, I’ve made a public data request to Moriarty’s office seeking the number of county attorneys she has on staff. This request has gone unanswered for six months despite repeated inquiries to Moriarty’s office and Hennepin County’s “responsible authority” over data practices requests. I suspect the number of vacant county attorney positions has increased dramatically under Moriarty’s management of the office. Reporting on this has been stymied by the lack of response from Moriarty’s office, despite claims by Moriarty that she values “transparency.”)

When pressed for details and assurances that there would be proper oversight and fiscal management of the contracted attorneys, Moriarty attempted to ease concerns by stating, “I will have the final say here,” and “I’m accountable to the voters of Hennepin County.” These statements should offer little comfort to the taxpayers and law-abiding citizens of Hennepin County.

Commissioner Jeff Lunde tried a few times to get specifics from Moriarty on the ultimate cost of this proposal, but most of her responses were as vague as those above.

Commissioner Lunde cited a figure of “one million dollars” and wanted assurances from Moriarty that there would be a robust system of fiscal oversight in place to properly manage the “burn rate” of the “million” so that the county wouldn’t be facing a situation where the contracted attorneys “burned” through the first million dollars only to ask for more to finish the trial, for example. 

Moriarty described the difficulty in quoting a precise amount the prosecution will ultimately cost, as there are too many unknowns in how the case will play out. While this may be true, it speaks to the failure of leadership this represents in terms of Moriarty being unable to field a prosecution team in this case, a year and half into her term. 

Ultimately, what became evident by listening to comments by board members and County Administrator David Hough, is that Hennepin County acknowledged this move represents a blank check being written to Steptoe, LLC, the national law firm Moriarty is contracting with to hire four former federal prosecutors to prosecute Trooper Londregan. 

While Hennepin County says it will monitor and manage the contract closely to control costs, as Mr. Hough stated, “Once we go, then we go” in an acknowledgement that once the Steptoe, LLC lawyers begin their work the county is committed to sticking with them until the case is complete — whatever the cost.

Commissioner Kevin Anderson, the only commissioner to vote against delegating authority for this contract to Moriarty, appropriately noted that the whole process appeared to violate the county’s own policy on contracting with outside vendors. County policy for contracts over $100,000 requires a competitive bid process from at least three potential vendors. That process appears to have just been ignored in this case — again with little to no explanation.

The entire process seemed oddly rubber stamped, with an almost complete lack of curiosity for specifics by the county board and county administration, and a resignation that the case will possibly require millions of dollars to prosecute. 

While Moriarty was asked about the feasibility of accepting assistance from the Attorney General’s Office, she described that option as a conflict of interest given the pending lawsuit by the Cobb family against the Minnesota State Patrol which is being defended by the Attorney General’s Office. 

There were no follow up questions about reallocating and managing the multitude of attorneys she still has within her own office or perhaps partnering with one of 86 other county attorney’s offices across the state to supplement her attorney compliment. Again, the lack of curiosity and the resignation that contracting for outside help is the only option seemed out of character for the largest county in our state.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association issued a statement following the board meeting summarizing the development as follows:

Kare 11 reporter Lou Raguse reported on X that he also felt the level of curiosity on the part of the board seemed odd. Raguse indicated that his sources were telling him that there were several dozen capable attorneys in Moriarty’s Office with the credentials and experience to prosecute the case, but that attorneys were declining to take the case because they disagree with the charges. 

These rumors have been bubbling under the surface of this case from the beginning, and the fact they have not dissipated, significantly calls into question the legitimacy of this prosecution, and in turn spells trouble for Moriarty going forward.

Eight months after Moriarty initially received the investigation from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension the public should have confidence that she is sufficiently capable of evaluating the facts of the case and changing her opinion when the facts fail to support her initial thoughts. Instead, stubbornness and an obsession to go after law enforcement at all costs appear to rule the day.

A spokesman for Governor Walz has said the Governor has “not closed the door on reassigning…” the Trooper Londregan case — a move he was forced to make earlier this year when Moriarty had offered inappropriately low plea deals to two juvenile murders.

Let’s hope reason eventually overcomes stubbornness in the Trooper Londregan case. Trooper Londregan, the law enforcement community, and law-abiding Minnesotans should expect nothing less.