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Cook County Connections: County Attorney Responsibilities

Jan 06, 2023 09:51AM ● By Content Editor
Photos provided. Main photo Molly Hicken

By: Molly Hicken, County Attorney from Cook County, Minnesota - January 6, 2023

The people of Cook County elect the County Attorney to act as the chief prosecutor for crimes occurring in Cook County and the City of Grand Marais and to advise the county board and staff upon all matters in which the county is or may be interested. When most people consider what the Cook County Attorney is responsible for (if they do), they likely think of the county attorney in her role as chief prosecutor for the county, charging complaints and making court appearances in criminal court; or in her role at the dais with the county commissioners, advising them during public meetings. While these two roles are important and probably the most public areas in which the county attorney serves, the entire expanse of statutory responsibilities assigned to county attorneys in the State of Minnesota is actually much more vast and diverse.

 Jeanne Monson

In Cook County, the legal work is divided between one elected county attorney and one assistant county attorney. Jeanne Monson has served as Assistant County Attorney in some capacity since 2012, with a four-year break from prosecution to work in other capacities in the county system. She currently handles the majority of adult criminal cases in the county. She prosecutes the entire adult criminal caseload from traffic tickets up to felony drug crimes, with the exception of sex crimes and felony domestic violence related cases which are handled by the county attorney. In addition to this criminal court work, Ms. Monson advises social workers for the county in the areas of child protection, commitments, and guardianships. She appears in court when cases of child abuse or neglect rise to a civil court action called a “Child in Need of Protection or Services” or “CHIPS” case; and takes forward all cases of commitment for mental illness or chemical dependency on behalf of the county. In addition, Ms. Monson sits on several multidisciplinary teams; along with members of social services, law enforcement, school supports, and community supports; with various missions to protect children and vulnerable adults in the county.

The balance of the adult criminal caseload, sex crimes and felony domestic violence related crimes, are the responsibility of the elected Cook County Attorney, Molly Hicken. Ms. Hicken also handles the small juvenile delinquency caseload. Hicken has been working as an attorney for the county since 2007 and as County Attorney in some capacity since 2012. Critical in supporting the work of the attorneys in the office are two administrative legal staff. Diana Dimitrova acts as receptionist, office manager, and legal secretary; receiving and organizing evidence from the law enforcement agencies the office works with, filing documents with the court, handling communications on behalf of the office, and scheduling meetings and handling calendars on behalf of the attorneys. KathyAnn Travis is the office’s paralegal and victim-witness coordinator. In her role as paralegal, Ms. Travis drafts pleadings and notices on behalf of the office, does some legal research, and tracks the progress of cases from contested court hearings to jury trials. As Victim-Witness Coordinator, Travis acts as a liaison between prosecutors and the victims and other witnesses in their cases and, importantly, ensures that the office fulfills its responsibilities towards victims of crimes as laid out in Chapter 611A of Minnesota Statutes.

The non-prosecutorial side of county attorney work, in general, includes resolving public disputes and enforcing the legal responsibilities of various county and state actors. For example, not only does the county attorney act as “corporate counsel” for county commissioners, she is also in a position where she must discipline them should they abdicate their duties. Should the auditor uncover evidence of malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in office, the county attorney must institute such proceedings as the law and the public interest require. If the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board so requires, the county attorney must bring an action to collect a civil penalty for the violation of campaign contribution laws.

The county attorney may assess civil fines to punish fraud committed against public officials or institutions, may be required to assist the attorney general in disputes over public lands, and must act as attorney for boards or commissions created by law when required to by the state. By statute, the county attorney is assigned to represent the local soil and water conservation districts, advise upon, and enforce government data practices and open meeting laws, and approve all licenses the county issues for sales of alcohol. The commissioner of commerce may refer violations of law relating to commerce and corporate takeovers to the county attorney. Related to forested lands, the county attorney accepts the abstract of title for the purchase of forested lands, may foreclose forested land due to unpaid taxes, and furnishes a certificate indicating a parcel of land to be sold is free of liens and taxes. The county attorney may bring a civil action to recover penalties for violation of disposal of hazardous waste and solid waste laws. These are only a few of the many, many more statutory duties of county attorneys in Minnesota.

The mission of the Cook County Attorney’s Office is to preserve and improve public safety through criminal prosecution, protect the vulnerable through civil action, and advise county leadership toward serving the best interests of the People of Cook County. Neither the County Attorney nor the Assistant County Attorney are allowed to advise citizens in their private affairs.

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.