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Three chief county prosecutors in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area, with a combined 55 years of experience, are leaving their jobs at the end of the year and triggering something of a shakeup among metro county attorneys.

Fall elections to change face of metro law enforcement

Three chief county prosecutors in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area, with a combined 55 years of experience, are leaving their jobs at the end of the year and triggering something of a shakeup among metro county attorneys.

“Change is always good,” says John Kingrey, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, which represents 87 county attorney offices and has a membership of 800. “A friend told me that out of change comes opportunity. But, that said, these three will certainly be missed.”

The three departing prosecutors are Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, who has held the position since 1994; Anoka County Attorney Bob Johnson, who has served for 28 years; and Washington County Attorney Doug Johnson, first elected in 1999.

Gaertner, the first woman to hold the Ramsey County job, chose to run as a DFL candidate for governor this year instead of seeking another term as county attorney. Although she didn’t seek the DFL’s endorsement, she stayed in the crowded gubernatorial race until a few days after April’s state DFL convention, at which House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher collected the endorsement.

Gaertner then withdrew from the race, saying she didn’t want two female candidates pitted against one another in the primary, and because she knew that running in the primary against “two self-financed and well-funded male candidates” would make it difficult to raise the money needed.

(Kelliher is now facing primary challenges from DFLers with deep pockets, neither of whom sought the party’s endorsement: Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza. Last week, Gaertner announced that she was supporting Entenza’s candidacy.)

Along with Bob and Doug Johnson, Gaertner was a member of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association’s 24-member board of directors, and Kingrey says all three have long been active within the group. “Whenever one of those three speaks, folks listen,” he says. “They’re very well-respected.”

Kingrey doesn’t believe that the exodus of three of the metro area’s seven county attorneys signals any kind of sea change. “I don’t think there’s any significant trend,” he says. “We’re seeing as many challenged races [statewide] as we normally do.

“The only difference this time is that the ones who are leaving are leaders on our board and leaders among the county attorneys in the metro area.”

A three-way race to succeed Gaertner is under way. The candidates are former St. Paul City Attorney John Choi, who now practices with the law firm of McGrann, Shea, Carnival, Straughn and Lamb, based in Minneapolis; David Schultz, who practices with the Maslon firm in Minneapolis; and Tammy Pust, a partner at the Parker Rosen firm in Minneapolis.

“I think for a lot of people, the county attorney’s race really isn’t on their radar screens at all,” says Choi, who resigned as city attorney when he decided to run for the county post. “It’s a very low-profile race; there’s a very limited amount of people who care a lot about it.

“That’s not to say that the general public doesn’t care — it’s just one of those races where it’s not on the front burner for everybody. There are other elections that people will be more attuned to at this point in the summer.”

There’s also a three-way race for Washington County attorney, a seat being vacated by 11-year veteran Doug Johnson. The candidates are Peter Orput of Stillwater, an assistant Hennepin County attorney; Clayton Robinson of Woodbury, a former St. Paul city attorney and currently assistant director of prosecutions in the Ramsey County attorney’s office; and Kevin Shoeberg of Stillwater, who practices law in Woodbury and is the city attorney for Landfall Village.

In Anoka County, Bob Johnson is retiring after 28 years as the county’s chief prosecutor. His seat is being sought by Tony Palumbo of Blaine, who has worked in the Anoka County attorney’s office since starting there as a law clerk during his third year of law school in 1977, and Brad Johnson of Coon Rapids, a prosecutor in the Hennepin County attorney’s office — and Bob Johnson’s son.

In addition to the three retiring metro county attorneys, three county sheriffs in the seven-county metro area aren’t seeking re-election this year: Anoka County Sheriff Bruce Andersohn, who started in the sheriff’s office as a county reserve officer in 1976 and has been sheriff since 2002; Don Gudmundson, who began his law enforcement career in 1970 and became Dakota County sheriff in 1994; and Carver County Sheriff Bud Olson, who was elected in 1998.

In Anoka County, Andersohn’s job is being sought by two sheriff’s officers: Ron Bouley, a patrol division lieutenant, and division commander James Stuart. It’s the same situation in Carver County, where two sheriff’s officers are vying to succeed Olson: Derek Lee, a sheriff’s sergeant who formerly worked as a deputy sheriff in Ramsey County, and Jim Olson, a lieutenant who has been with the department since 1987.

When Dakota County’s Gudmundson left his job in February, 10 months before his term expired, he appointed his chief deputy, Dave Bellows, as interim sheriff. Bellows — who has been endorsed by Gudmundson — is seeking to become the elected sheriff, running against challenger Mitch Scott, who has been with the Apple Valley Police Department since 2005.

“It’s just simply a coincidence,” says Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. “I can’t point to any single reason that I would attribute to sheriffs deciding not to run. When a person reaches an age where they can move on and get out of a pressure cooker, I think they do that.”

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