5/22/2020 12:34:00 PM Judicial Corner - Cass County Attorney's Office
By Cass County Attorney Ben Lindstrom
The novel coronavirus and associated emergency declarations have touched the lives of everyone in our community and the Cass County Attorney's Office has had to adapt how we do business. While various County buildings have been closed to public foot traffic, our Office remains open with an emphasis on phones and email to conduct business. The courts also remain open and, with the temporary modification of certain rules by the Minnesota Supreme Court, many of our hearings can now be conducted remotely using video or phone conferencing.
Though some things have been delayed while new procedures are implemented; we still have the capacity to litigate select matters when resolutions cannot be reached. For example, our office recently pursued a contested probation revocation hearing for an individual who was on probation for felony burglary and theft. During this hearing, our Office had the burden to prove that the person violated the terms of their probation. To make a hearing like this happen in normal times, everyone would need to gather in the Courtroom along with witnesses. Given the Supreme Court's modification of the appearance rules, the Cass County Attorney was able to take testimony from a probation agent who appeared at the hearing via video conference. The defense attorney was able to cross examine the probation agent while also appearing by video. Despite these adapted methods, the process still worked. After hearing testimony and argument, the Judge (presiding via video conference) was able to find that the testimony presented by the County Attorney's Office supported revocation of probation. In another matter, our office was able to proceed to trial on a termination of parental rights for a child in need of protective services. In this proceeding, some participants were able to make the appearance by phone or video conference, while others were able to appear in the courtroom in person with appropriate social distancing. Again, despite the adapted methods, the process still worked.
Our office has also taken advantage of the rules of criminal procedure that allow for the resolution of certain criminal matters without the requirement of a court appearance. In this process, a document called a plea petition outlines the constitutional and procedural rights that a person must waive when entering a negotiated resolution with the prosecutor. To become effective, the document must be signed by the defendant and his or her attorney, an attorney from the County Attorney's Office, and a District Court Judge. When a defendant chooses to pursue this process in an eligible case, it can substantially reduce the number of required court appearances needed to resolve the case.
As our community deals with this pandemic, we need to stay focused on moving forward. Some have been fortunate enough to remain employed with adapted methods, while many want to work but cannot. If you can help your neighbor or local business while following social distancing guidelines, there is no time like now to do so. Buying from local stores, purchasing gift cards, or simply donating money are just some of the things we can do to help our neighbors. We are in this together. No number of elected officials or laws can make recovery happen. Individuals helping other individuals is a prerequisite to any progress towards recovery.
If you have a question that you would like to have addressed in this column contact Ben Lindstrom, Cass County Attorney at
218-547-7255 or by email at email@example.com