Legislative auditor won’t investigate Attorney General Swanson

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The Office of the Legislative Auditor has determined that there are no grounds to further investigate the conduct of Attorney General Lori Swanson. In a report released today, the office stated that any possible wrongdoing fell outside the purview of the auditor’s investigative powers.

Swanson has been dogged by allegations that she pressured staff to pursue civil lawsuits without proper justification, lobbied lawyers to include unsubstantiated information in affidavits and pressured employees to post favorable comments on blogs.

The report is the second in a week to clear Swanson. A probe conducted by University of St. Thomas Law School Dean Thomas Mengler, at the behest of the A.G.’s office, found “no evidence of any unprofessional conduct” by Swanson or her staff. That investigation, however, focused solely on whether there was any unethical conduct in the filing of two lawsuits. Attorney Amy Lawler, one of the chief internal critics of the A.G.’s office, was immediately fired after the Mengler report was released.

While the legislative auditor’s report didn’t unearth any grounds for investigation, that conclusion was largely based on the fact that there were no allegations of financial wrongdoing. The report notes that the criticisms levied against Swanson’s office “are not the kinds of issues the Legislative Auditor addresses through an investigation.”

But the report does note evidence of rancor among staff members, in particular singling out former attorney general Mike Hatch as a lightning rod for discontent. “A principal criticism they made of Attorney General Swanson was that she appointed Mr. Hatch to a position in the office after Attorney General Swanson was sworn into office in 2007,” the report notes. “This — and Mr. Hatch’s continued influence on the office — was said to be the ‘tipping point’ that caused some current and former employees to voice criticisms and accusations against Attorney General Swanson.” Hatch resigned from the office a year ago. (MinnPost recently ran a two-part series by Eric Black looking at the fallout from what it labeled Hatch’s “traumatic reign.”)

AFSCME Council 5, which has been locked in an organizing dispute with the A.G.’s office, argues that the report is not a victory for Swanson. “The Auditor’s report doesn’t vindicate Attorney General Swanson,” said Council 5 director Eliot Seide in a statement. “It vindicates staff attorneys who raised legitimate concerns about her management style.”