County Attorney’s office chipping away at case load

Published 5:43 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Things are getting better, but there is still a long ways to go.

That was the message Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen delivered to the County Board of Commissioners during a meeting last Tuesday.

While the county has been able to meet staffing needs in the CA’s office, there are still a large number of cases sitting in attorney inboxes.

“We still have a backlog,” Nelsen said. “That’s not changing. We’re working on it. At some point in the next few months, we will be working with the public defenders office to get rid of the backlog.”

Similar to something Olmsted County has done, Mower County is looking at approaching cases that are not big public safety cases and offering deals that would whittle down that backlog.

“We’re going to give you our best deals,” Nelsen said.

However, she also stressed that bigger cases will not be given that same opportunity. What it’s about is shoring up lower level offender cases to get to those more serious cases.

“We need to get to the cases we really need to try,” Nelsen said.

The CA’s office is also looking into a warrant amnesty day where people can come in and get new court dates in order to get back on the books to get those cases resolved.

However, Nelsen also pointed out that the office has had some wins along the way.

“We’ve had some great success in the last few months,” she said. “Our biggest success is the staff we currently have.”

Crediting her current staff, Nelsen said, “we have some amazing lawyers,” while also stressing that time still needs to be dedicated to training.

With cases being handled largely over Zoom as a COVID-19 pandemic precaution, Nelsen told the board that her staff hasn’t had access to needed training.

In the past, new attorneys have been able to litigate with an experienced member of the CA’s office, but that hasn’t been an option in the last couple years.

“It’s been hard to get people together for training the last two years essentially,” Nelsen said. “We’re probably a few months behind getting people where we need them to be because we can’t throw them in like we normally would with somebody with them.”

Nelsen honored

Following her presentation, the County Board recognized Nelsen for her being bestowed the MCAA Johnson Distinguished Service Aware on Dec. 1 by the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.

Board Chair Polly Glynn read a statement from the MCAA that lauded Nelsen for her work over the years, both in the courtroom and om service to the MCAA where she has served in a number of positions.

“This award honors an MCAA member who has demonstrated a history of significant leadership, and whose activity has increased public awareness of the office of County Attorney,” Glynn read.

“The MCAA is so lucky to have you,” Glynn added.

Nelsen said that the organization has had an influential effect on her in her time with the MCAA.

“Thank you for the time to do it,” Nelsen told the board. “I will never give as much as I’ve received from this organization.”

COVID in the county

With a steady parade of  COVID-19 case numbers within the county, Director of Mower County Health and Human Services Crystal Peterson told the board last week that the pandemic very definitely continues to be a presence in the community.

The answer came to a question by Commissioner Mike Ankeny, who asked Peterson what her recommendations were on mask wearing.

Currently, masks are required to be worn in the City Government Building, but commissioners pointed some lack of consistency.

“We strongly recommend you wear masks,” Peterson said. “I think we would have to go back and look at that entire conversation if we’re going to change our minds.”

Peterson said that Mower County has been averaging a steady 20 cases per day for months. Mower recorded its 52nd death in the community this week, and the total cumulative cases continue to creep toward the 8,000 mark.

Because of that, County Administrator Trish Harren said that it’s up to the county to be role models for the effort.

“If the CDC were to change the guidance …  then we can recommend, but when our hospitals are taking out full page ads saying we are overwhelmed … our state is still in crisis,” Harren said. “I think we have to do whatever we can as government and public health.”

Peterson also reported that the county is wrapping up a vaccination drive for kids 5- to 11-years-old. As of last Tuesday’s meeting, 285 kids have been vaccinated in the county through the drive.

“We’re at 9% fully vaccinated and 19% with at least one shot,” Peterson said.

As of this past Tuesday morning, there were 7,774 cumulative cases in Mower County with 52 deaths.