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County beefs up legal staff

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County beefs up legal staff
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Ever wonder how they manage to while away the hours at the Becker County Attorney's Office?

Here's a clue: Between giving legal advice to commissioners and county officials, prosecuting serious crimes, protecting at-risk young people, working with victims and witnesses, and going after juvenile criminals, the county attorney's office is in the trenches providing legal advice on matters as diverse as waste management, defending challenges to property tax values, representing the Human Services Department on welfare appeals, enforcing county environmental and health ordinances, and forfeiting property used in connection with criminal activity.

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Whew. Did we mention the part about assisting the county in buying property and negotiating leases and contracts?

No? Well, the attorneys there do that, too.

All four of them.

They handled 93 court files of all types on Tuesday, which was not an unusually heavy case load.

In other words, they're busy.

But help is on the way. The County Board on Tuesday approved a request from County Attorney Joe Evans for an additional assistant county attorney.

"The workload in our office has continued to increase over the years," Evans told the board. "There's been a tremendous amount of growth in legal demands placed upon our office ... we're not able to do as good a job as we'd like on all cases, and the turnaround time (on supplying legal information requested by county officials) is not what we'd like."

Based on county population and court workload "we're the leanest office in the Seventh (Judicial) District," he said.

The county has budgeted about $84,000 for the position -- $63,000 for salary and the rest for benefits.

The new attorney will join assistant county attorneys Mike Fritz, Gretchen Thilmony and Tammy Merkins.

Evans will likely advertise the position with the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and Minnesota Lawyer magazine. He expects to complete the hiring process within three months. Because there will be a temporary vacancy in his administrative assistance staff, with a temporary worker filling in over the summer, the start date for the new assistant county attorney won't be until Sept. 1.

"We rely on you so much," County Board Chairman Barry Nelson told Evans. "You're held in such high regard throughout the state -- it's nice to have such a competent county attorney's office."

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