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Hansen expands on county attorney duties

December 8, 2011
Estherville Daily News

To the Editor of EDN:

In your December 7 edition, you ran a front page story entitled, "County to Investigate Nuisance Abatement Options". Your story featured Mr. Dave Grussing of Armstrong addressing the Emmet County Board of Supervisors regarding two abandoned homes near Mr. Grussing's residence in Armstrong. Mr. Grussing is quoted in your paper as saying: "There has been absolutely no effort to deal with it whatsoever", referring to me and my office. Additionally, Mr. Grussing, as quoted in your newspaper, said to the County Supervisors: "Can you direct the county attorney to do his job". Since the public, through Mr. Grussing's statements as published in your newspaper, has been misinformed about my duties in this area, I believe the misinformation should be corrected.

As your County Attorney, I have 85 specific duties that I must perform pursuant to the Code of Iowa. In simple terms, my duties can be divided into two categories; one is to prosecute criminal offenses and the other is to represent Emmet County and specified state agencies in civil matters. The best way to distinguish criminal from civil is that in civil matters, there is no potential of jail time. Abatement of nuisances would be civil matters. My duty in all civil matters is to represent the County or state agency as legal counsel. The County or state agency is my client and I must advocate my client's position within the bounds of the law and legal ethics. I have absolutely no independent power or authority to file civil law suits on my own just because I think they should be filed. My client (County or state agency) must authorize the filing of the civil suit. Imagine if you had a personal attorney that just filed law suites all over the place for whatever he wanted, in your name, without your knowledge, and then sent you the bill for legal expenses. We all know it does not work that way in private affairs. Likewise, it does not work that way in public affairs either.

When Mr. Grussing came to my office more than a year ago to talk about these two properties, I did several things: (1) discussed the matter in detail with him; (2) advised him that he could file suit on this own; (3) advised him that the City of Armstrong could file suit; (4) advised him that I could not file suit on my own; (5) advised him that he should talk with the County Supervisors about the situation - which he did more than a year ago; (6) advised him that if he could convince the Supervisors that they needed to file legal proceedings, they would ask me to initiate the proceedings and I would do so; and (7) referred Mr. Grussing's concern to the County Sanitarian for inspection and remedial action if needed.

So, I want the public to know that I did my job in this particular case. Mr. Grussing did talk with the Supervisors more than a year ago about his complaint. I was not at that meeting so I do not know what was said. However, the Supervisors never asked me to file any proceedings or do any further investigation and if the ball was dropped somewhere along the line more than a year ago, it was not dropped by me.

Doug Hansen

Emmet County Attorney



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