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Grand jury meets Tuesday on Adams case

A grand jury will convene at the Becker County Courthouse Tuesday to determine if charges should be filed in the Sept. 9 assault incident involving Detroit Lakes Superintendent Mark Adams and Ogema-area farmer Mark Rothschadl.

Jurors have already been selected, since each year a pool of Becker County residents are selected at random to serve on a grand jury, should one need to be called into service, said Becker County Attorney Joe Evans.

The county attorney's office usually makes the decision to charge or not to charge based on evidence presented by law enforcement. Evans wouldn't say why he decided to call a grand jury in this case.

"I will not comment about this grand jury, I don't think it's appropriate to comment on (this case)," he said. But he was willing to talk in general about how the grand jury process works.

Grand jury members must be county residents and U.S. citizens at least 18 years of age, who have not forfeited their civil rights through a felony conviction.

While a potential juror may be excused by a judge for good cause, the process is different than choosing a trial jury, when prosecutors and defense attorneys screen potential jurors and may reject a certain number of them.

The grand jury that meets Tuesday will be made up of 16-23 people from that previously selected pool, who will meet in secret in a courtroom to hear evidence presented by the county attorney's office.

Media and other members of the public are barred from witnessing the proceedings, and the names of witnesses called to testify are not released, Evans said.

"The only people allowed in a grand jury room are jurors, the county attorney and a court reporter," Evans said. "A witness may have an attorney if they so choose, to consult with their client."

A judge gives the jury its instructions to start off the proceedings, and the county attorney's office presents evidence in the case.

Witnesses are sworn-in prior to testifying and are subject to perjury laws if they are found to have lied under oath, Evans said.

The grand jury has wide-ranging authority to pursue law-breaking in the county, but generally sticks to the main subjects in the case prescribed to it, Evan said.

The grand jury will set its own hours and timetable, but ultimately is expected to keep regular hours and work towards resolution of the case in front of it.

The grand jury has the independence to charge either or both men involved in the incident, based on the evidence, Evans said.

Adams, whose significant other is Terri Anderson, Rothschadl's ex-wife, drove out to Rothschadl's farm Sept. 9 to meet with Rothschadl alone.

Adams said the intent was to discuss the new family situation to minimize any harm to the children involved.

Rothschadl said Adams came out to the farm looking for trouble, and insisting that he was going to be involved in raising the Rothschadl children, like it or not.

Rothschadl said the talk grew heated -- with him telling Adams to raise his own three children, left behind in Grand Rapids after a recent divorce -- and Adams took him by surprise with a punch to the face, fracturing an eye socket that later required surgery.

For his part, Adams said Rothschadl grew increasingly agitated during their talk and then attacked him without warning, punching his head, trying to kick him and throwing him against vehicles, then the two wrestled and "bounced all over," both throwing punches.

Rothschadl said his face swelled up and he went into the emergency room in Mahnomen the next day; from there he went to Fargo for surgery at MeritCare hospital. Relatives say he may have permanent eye damage.

The grand jury will attempt to sort out the facts and then make a decision on whether anyone should be charged in the incident. Evans said there is no time limit on grand jury proceedings and he does not know how long to expect the process to take.

The case has attracted media attention from Fargo and the Twin Cities, and the incident has inspired a nasty Internet chat room war with more than 230 entries on one site at last count.

Adams was hired in April, to replace Superintendent Lowell Niklaus, who stepped down on June 30 to become the district's new education director.

Adams served as superintendent at Deer River for nearly three years. It was his first superintendent job, though he had five years of teaching experience and another 10 years of school administrative experience.

Adams, who started work July 1, has a three-year contract with the Detroit Lakes School District that includes a first-year salary of $110,000, with increases of several thousand dollars each year.

He has remained on the job since the incident. The Detroit Lakes School Board met in closed session for two hours Oct. 2, but ultimately took no action.

"There's nothing to warrant disciplinary action at this time," said School Board Chairman Dr. Tom Seaworth later that day. "We will continue to view information as it becomes available, and review it with legal counsel."

He later told a Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter that Adams has the board's support and that interviewers knew Adams was going through a divorce when he sought the Detroit Lakes job, but there was no hint of impropriety then or in a background check.

If the grand jury decides criminal charges should be filed, it will inform the district judge overseeing the case.

If no charges are recommended, Evan said he will make that known to the public.