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Wabasha County commissioner's legal action blunts all communication

James C. Nordstrom Wabasha County Attorney

WABASHA — The ongoing dispute in Wabasha County has resulted in county officials ceasing all communication with commissioner Deb Roschen outside of board meetings, per legal advice.

The situation stems from the fact that Roschen retained Minneapolis attorney Erick Kaardal as her legal counsel on June 5. That same day, Kaardal sent a letter to Wabasha County informing local officials that an investigation had commenced into alleged wrongdoing by county officials, employees and the county itself, according to Wabasha County Attorney James Nordstrom.

However, Kaardal's letter did not cite specifically Roschen's complaints. Nordstrom says the county has requested clarification four separate times, but has not received an answer.

Without knowing what legal course Roschen is pursuing, Nordstrom said he has been forced to advise the county to cease all forms of communication with Roschen, who was elected in 2010 and was the subject of a recall petition in 2011. The county's avoidance methods include sending all county board information through Kaardal's office.

"We're just being cautious," Nordstrom said. "We can't have contact with someone who is represented by an attorney until we know what the claims are. Until we get (Kaardal's) response, we're not going to deal directly with her. We're not going to violate our rules of ethics."


Roschen declined comment Friday, directing all inquiries to Kaardal. He did not return phone calls.

Confusion over communication

On Friday, Kaardal sent an email to Nordstrom's office, authorizing contact between Roschen and the county once again, but Nordstrom says it still leaves the situation unexplained.

However, Kaardal did provide additional information in a June 20 letter to the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, Wabasha County's insurance provider. That letter lists the county attorney, assistant county attorney, county sheriff, county auditor and three unnamed commissioners — presumably Don Springer, Mike Wobbe and Rich Hall, who consistently vote opposite Roschen — as supporting the county's Drivers Safety Program, which recently has drawn the ire of the Minnesota state auditor.

Focus on program

Roschen's attorney characterizes those individuals as displaying "a pattern of misusing their authority and power to harass, retaliate and intimidate people who agree with the state auditor." Roschen penned a letter to the editor in the Post-Bulletin in early June questioning the legality of the county's program.

Wabasha County has collected more than $400,000 from that class since it began in 2003. The two-hour course costs about the same as a speeding ticket, but it prevents the ticket from going on the driver's record, eliminating the corresponding bump in insurance rates.

More specifically, that money stays within the county rather than being shared with the state. Rebecca Otto, the state auditor, has said that point puts the program at odds with state law, but admitted her office doesn't have the resources to enforce it.


Kaardal's letter to the MCIT suggests that Roschen soon could challenge the legality of the driving program herself.

"The underlying issue of the legality of the Wabasha County Drivers Safety Class also raises issues regarding MCIT's future role when a challenge to the program is made — and it will come," Kaardal wrote.

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