Public safety is on the top of everyone’s mind. Fortunately Dakota County has not experienced the same level of violent crime as some of our neighboring counties. The number of felony cases we prosecuted decreased in 2021; and unlike other counties, there were no reported car jackings in 2021 and none thus far in 2022. This is due in large part to the work of our police agencies and my office. My key priority is to continue protecting public safety by prosecuting crime in a fair and just manner to hold people accountable; and to ensure the rights of crime victims are safeguarded. To improve public safety, I will continue to work to reduce criminal justice involvement with those living with a mental illness and/or substance use disorder.
I currently serve as the Dakota County Attorney. I joined the office in 2000 as a criminal prosecutor. In 2005 I transferred to the civil division and represented the county in civil litigation and provided legal services to county departments. In 2013 I was promoted to Criminal Division Head; in 2019 I was promoted to Chief Deputy; and in May 2021 I was appointed to my current position. I also served 7 years in the Lyon County Attorney’s Office, 5 of those as the Lyon County Attorney.
The biggest challenge is addressing the criminal case backlog caused by the pandemic. I implemented the following measures to assist in reducing the backlog: (1) I suspended prosecuting gross misdemeanor level drug cases; (2) I created a pretrial drug diversion program; (3) I relaxed entry criteria for our adult property offender diversion program to increase participation; and (4) I relaxed our disposition guidelines for low level felony offenses to encourage settlement.
I would continue working on solutions to mass incarceration and bail reform. Nationally, more than 50% of those incarcerated have some type of mental health history; and 68% of those incarcerated have a substance use disorder – many people have both. It is for that reason one of my priorities is to look at points at which people who have a mental health and/or substance use disorder can be diverted from justice involvement.
It’s a rare instance when we have conflict in the office because we hire professionals who share three common qualities: team players, dedication to public service and hard-working. If a conflict does arise, steps are immediately taken to determine how severe the conflict is, who needs to participate in the conversation, gather all necessary information, together as a group determine the root cause of the conflict, and create a solution to the conflict with input from all interested parties.
I will focus the resources of the Dakota County Attorney’s Office on prosecuting violent crimes that threaten the safety and stability of our communities, not on criminalizing addiction and mental illness. First, I will expand evidence-based specialty court programs; this includes expanding the newly created veterans’ court, better utilizing drug court, and forming a mental health court. Second, we will institute focused deterrence strategies, which concentrate resources towards repeat offenders and at-risk youth. Finally, as a 16-year veteran prosecutor, I understand the importance of diversity in a DA’s office and will work to empower attorneys and recruit candidates that reflect the entirety of Dakota County.
My frontline experience, combined with advocacy alongside community leaders makes me the most qualified candidate. I have over sixteen years of experience, handling thousands of criminal cases and working with community partners to make legislative amendments. I am currently working on focused deterrence strategies for addressing youth auto thefts by creating partnerships to bring together police, youth outreach workers, and community to proactively reduce auto theft recidivism.
The pandemic created a significant backlog in cases and stressed our resources. We must address this backlog with innovative approaches that enable us to refocus resources on the most serious crimes. Additionally, as Dakota County grows, we are becoming more populous and diverse. This is more an opportunity than a challenge, but we must proactively reach out and build relationships with all communities to rebuild trust and better understand how we can better serve everyone in Dakota County.
Racial inequity within the justice system is more complex and widespread than just charging decisions. I am the only candidate that has analyzed racial inequities and sought their reduction from within a prosecutor's office. We must conduct open and honest examinations of internal practices and reach out to members of the community to hear their concerns and experiences. Most importantly, we must genuinely respond to those concerns and actually change practices that prevent racial equity.
I know firsthand the importance of obtaining frank and genuine input from everyone when working towards improving practices and procedures. Some conflict is natural. Open dialogues that remain respectful and professional are necessary. We need to support and encourage mixed groups of employees and management to have robust discussions about internal functions and support employees in challenging roles. I will work to earn public trust through continuous professionalism and transparency.
Matt’s core priority is to provide safety and justice for all. These top priorities fulfill this important responsibility.
1) ADDRESSING CYCLES OF SEXUAL & DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Including developing practices that treat survivors of assault with dignity, equipping staff with the best possible training, and overviewing uninvestigated assault cases.
2) KEEPING COMMUNITIES SAFE FROM GUN VIOLENCE: Advocating for commonsense, bipartisan measures to reduce illegal gun sales and make communities safer while respecting those who responsibly own firearms.
3) ESTABLISHING A VETERANS COURT: A Veterans Court will work with veterans in crisis, while providing the context and resources needed to help them return to life as healthy, productive citizens.
The Dakota County Attorney is an advocate working on behalf of the people of Dakota County. A County Attorney's job involves setting policy, making key decisions about how the legal process works within the County, managing the County Attorney's office, staff, and budget, and advocating for resources and policy changes at the Capitol. The role requires leadership, vision, and good judgment. Matt has exhibited these traits in his previous experience as a State Senator, Mayor, and attorney.
Change in a large organization can be difficult, and the Dakota County Attorney’s office is no different. Matt’s leadership as mayor grew Lakeville to the largest city in Dakota County, so he has first hand experience with large-scale management and diverse opinions.
Matt also has a vision for the office to be more than just another lawyer, but also an advocate. He’ll take the fight for Safety and Justice outside of the courtroom to expand mental health, housing, and reduce gun violence.
Matt’s priorities include measures that work to provide safety and justice for all, including to change charging, ticketing, prosecution policies. Matt will ensure that the County bail system is not used to keep nonviolent low income people accused of minor crimes from getting to their jobs or home to their kids. Matt will advocate for decriminalizing expired tabs and nonviolent low-level drug offenses; and to change the punishments for minor traffic stops to civil, not criminal, penalties.
There are two types of conflict: personal and professional.
Personal conflict based on a person’s religion, skin color, sex, gender, or abilities has no place in the workplace and will not be tolerated.
Then there’s professional conflict. It is possible to have good faith disagreements, especially with sensitive criminal justice issues. Disagreements need to be respected, heard completely, and be taken into account- with the County Attorney making the final decision.
My priority will be to shift the focus of the office from simply processing cases to problem solving. While "lock 'em up and throw away the key" may sound like a great slogan, it is completely detached from reality. All but a tiny percentage of people incarcerated will ultimately return to our communities. If we want to advance public safety, we must shift our focus to the way those people return. If we close off every means of them legitimately supporting themselves and their families, we only leave the illegitimate ones. We have to get Smart on Crime. We must do what we can to keep people from entering the system. But for those who do end up there, every person in the system must try to find a way to ensure this trip is the person's last.
I have spent 35 years defending people who have been at the pointy end of everything the county attorney prosecutes. I know what works and what doesn't. In that time, I have been recognized by my peers as one of the "Best Lawyers in America" every year since 2007, been named "Attorney of the Year" three times and named a "Minnesota Icon" in criminal law. Thousands of people have hired me because I'm the best attorney in the business. Dakota County now has the ability to hire me as their attorney
Prosecutors have been told for 50 years that public safety is achieved with longer sentences and more prison beds. The U.S. now has the largest population of incarcerated people in the world, but still our crime rates continue to rise. The biggest challenge facing the office will be shifting the culture to accept this statistically undeniable reality. We must focus on solving problems by dealing with each individual we charge to see what can be done to get them off the recidivism merry-go-round.
I would start by diversifying the workforce. There have been no front-line prosecutors of color in the office in recent memory. And for the rest, I would engage a coach to help them understand where our systems have failed to prevent inequality. I know that, as a white man, I have moved effortlessly through my life. I also know that privilege has not been the experience of all my fellow Americans. They say the first step in addressing a problem is to first acknowledge it exists. I do.
In my experience, conflict is generally the product of indifferent supervision. If misunderstandings are permitted to fester, they become conflicts. My approach is to address each misunderstanding in the moment. We may disagree, but it will be done respectfully. I approach every problem with an open mind and a willingness to be persuaded. I love a good argument. It is why I became a lawyer. But if in the end our conflict proves irreconcilable, we again can find a respectful way to part company.