County attorney hopefuls bring varied backgroundsWashington County voters will select a new county attorney this fall, and the three candidates competing in an Aug. 10 primary election offer three distinct backgrounds.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
Washington County voters will select a new county attorney this fall, and the three candidates competing in an Aug. 10 primary election offer three distinct backgrounds.
Pete Orput, a Stillwater resident, talks up his experience as a sought-after prosecutor, now specializing in prosecuting violent robberies in Hennepin County. He adds that he is the only candidate who has worked in the Washington County Attorney’s Office and is familiar with local law enforcement.
“I know the county well and I know a lot of the older cops,” Orput said.
Woodbury resident Clayton Robinson touts his experience as a manager of prosecutors within the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and a resume that includes a stint as St. Paul city attorney and a one-time nominee for U.S. attorney in Minnesota.
“I come with a broad background that goes beyond just the prosecution function,” Robinson said.
Kevin Shoeberg, a Stillwater resident, is emphasizing to voters that as an attorney and prosecutor for cities and townships he has handled the variety of legal work that is the responsibility of a county attorney.
“In my position, first of all, I know most of the players in the system because I’ve been here in Washington County for 20 years,” Shoeberg said.
The candidates are campaigning hard for votes in the first county attorney primary battle in Washington County in 12 years. They are vying to replace Washington County Attorney Doug Johnson, who is retiring after three terms.
Orput spent seven years as an assistant attorney in Washington County. It is one of four counties in which he worked as a felony prosecutor.
Orput said residents expect the county attorney to, first and foremost, focus on the public’s safety, and then to provide “cost-effective management and competent management.” Orput said he has budget experience, having managed criminal divisions.
If elected, Orput said he would work with city attorneys to develop a “domestic abuse service center,” a collection of services and resources for abuse victims.
“It’s there,” he said of domestic abuse in Washington County. “Somebody’s got to do something about it.”
Orput said as county attorney he would make an effort to get involved in local schools and try to curb truancy problems. That can help to deter juvenile crimes.
“If I can keep a kid from going to Graystone College,” he said of jail, “that’s money saved.”
Ready to serve
Robinson said he could transition well into the role of county attorney because he is an experienced prosecutor but also has provided legal advice to government officials, another key role of a county attorney. He currently prosecutes some cases in Ramsey County, but also manages a team of felony prosecutors within the office. From 1998 to 2002, Robinson served as St. Paul city attorney for then-Mayor Norm Coleman. He also has worked in the Minnesota attorney general’s office.
“As a consequence, I know the courtroom inside and out,” he said.
The candidates all say they have met with law enforcement officials within the county. Robinson said he also has solicited input from county department leaders, who as attorney he would advise on a variety of issues.
“I’m not making any presumptions, but I also understand it’s important in a position like this that you have to hit the ground running,” he said.
Unlike Robinson and Orput, Shoeberg’s experience includes working as attorney and prosecutor for a number of local governments. He currently is in private practice — his office is in Woodbury — and represents the city of Landfall.
“I’m the only candidate from what I can tell that has the civil experience,” he said of representing local cities and townships.
In addition, Shoeberg said he has handled child support cases, vulnerable adult cases and juvenile cases. He also has done criminal defense work.
As he has campaigned, Shoeberg said he has heard from law enforcement officials who want to see more aggressive prosecution from within the county attorney’s office. He said he would try to work more cooperatively with law enforcement agencies in Washington County.
Also, Shoeberg said, as county attorney he would want to explore property assessments and appeals. He suggested that the property assessment process needs review because of the increase in the number of assessments being challenged.
The candidates are touting their credentials as well as their endorsements. Orput is backed by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and local police unions. Robinson is endorsed by Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner and Johnson, the retiring Washington County attorney. Shoeberg touts the backing of several city and township leaders within the county.
Professional experience: Assistant Hennepin County attorney, 2006-present; Minnesota Department of Corrections general counsel; deputy Minnesota attorney general; assistant Minnesota attorney general; assistant county attorney in four counties, including Washington.
Education: University of Minnesota; William Mitchell College of Law.
Family: Married, three children.
Professional experience: Ramsey County assistant director of prosecutions, 2002 to present; St. Paul City Attorney; civil and criminal attorney in private practice; assistant Ramsey County attorney; special assistant Minnesota attorney general.
Education: Loyola University; Drake University School of Law.
Family: Married, adult daughter.
Professional experience: Kevin Shoeberg, P.A., law office, Woodbury, 1997 to present; Eckberg law firm, Stillwater; past attorney, assistant attorney and prosecutor for area local governments, including Lake Elmo, Denmark Township, Woodbury and Lakeland.
Education: Southwest State University; University of Minnesota Law School.
Family: Married, four children.