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Suspended lawyer alleges ethical lapses in Swanson's office

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Cracking down on cybercrime
Attorney General Lori Swanson has placed Assistant Attorney General Amy Lawer on administrative leave.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

When Deputy Attorney General Karen Olson explained the suspension of Amy Lawler last week, she referenced a specific ethical concern Lawler had recently shared with reporters. 

Lawler, who was also involved in union organizing efforts in the office, claimed she was directed by Attorney General Swanson to quickly file lawsuits against mortgage foreclosure consultants, even though Swanson did not have any defendants in mind. 

Olson said Lawler should have used proper channels to report a possible ethics violation.

"I have asked that she provide to me, by the end of the week, any information she has regarding ethical concerns. And in fact, if she has any ethical concerns, she should report any violation to the Minnesota Board of Professional Responsibility," Olson said last week.

"If these many attorneys have these many concerns, it's something the office should look into. It's not something they should sweep under the rug."

Lawler responded to Olson late Friday with a 20-page letter detailing her ethical concerns. She also insisted that she had raised those concerns several times with her superiors. 

In addition, Lawler highlighted eight specific incidents when other attorneys in the office faced their own ethical challenges.

"I think it's important that I'm not the only one having these concerns. A lot of people have concerns with the office," said Lawler. "And it's really a disservice that the office isn't addressing the huge number of concerns that other people have."

"Instead of trying to figure out why all these people are leaving, and instead of trying to figure out the best way to address these problems, I felt that the letter was just trying to set it up as this one attorney is having issues. And that's just not true," Lawler added.

Lawler described an incident when an attorney in the AG's office refused orders to add inaccurate statements to a consumer's affidavit. 

In another case, she says an assistant attorney general was criticized for removing false statements that a supervisor had inserted in affidavits. 

Current and former staff attorneys who asked that their names not be used, confirmed both incidents to MPR News.

Lawler says another attorney was ordered to invite consumers to a meeting with the attorney general, but the attorney was not allowed to tell those consumers that the event was also a press conference. That incident was also confirmed by a former attorney. 

Other allegations include a supervisor asking an attorney to make blog post lauding the Swanson administration, and employees being hired with the explicit instruction that the position required loyalty to Attorney General Swanson, and that those advocating for the union were not being loyal.

"If these many attorneys have these many concerns, it's something the office should look into," said Lawler. "It's something the office should address. It's not something they should just sweep under the rug."

Attorney General Swanson did not comment directly on the allegations. Her spokesman Brian Bergson issued a written statement, saying it is impossible for an employer to respond to anonymous attacks from former employees or those who may be disgruntled. 

Bergson said Lawler, and the anonymous attorneys referenced in her letter, are trying to embarrass the attorney general into recognizing a union. Swanson contends state law prohibits attorneys in her office from forming a union.

Three employees of the attorney general's office mentioned in Lawler's letter wrote letters of their own disputing Lawler's version of events.

Lawler says an attorney for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 5 is working on her behalf to try schedule a meeting with administrators in the attorney general's office. She says so far, those efforts have not been successful.