Rare Minnesota law makes reinstatement of disgraced former sheriff an ‘entitlement’

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A rare Minnesota law has saved former Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson’s seat at the Metro Transit Police Department, regardless of his record.

In his time as sheriff, Hutchinson was convicted of DWI, had his peace officer license suspended for 30 days, and was accused in a report of harassing and bullying staff members.

A source tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the Metropolitan Council is looking into whether Hutchinson violated any policies within the police department’s employee code of conduct. Meanwhile, he’s on paid leave, and there’s discussion at the Minnesota State Capitol about getting rid of the law that reinstated him in the first place.

MN Statute 3.088 says as long as the job hasn’t been abolished, an elected official shall be reinstated in the public position they held when they took office.

Courtesy: Minnesota Legislature, Office of the Revisor of Statutes

That’s about it; there’s no mention of legal or other violations that would stop a former official from taking back their old job.

“You’re absolutely correct here. The language seems to be fairly murky in terms of of that issue,” Hamline University political science and University of Minnesota law professor David Schultz said.

“It seems to almost make it automatic, that the person has an entitlement, has the right to come back to a previous position they have left.”

The Minnesota Supreme Court has since said there can be legal “cause” not to reinstate someone. A combination of the circumstances surrounding Hutchinson’s term in office could fit under the “cause” umbrella, Schultz said:

“It seems like it possibly would. Now would all DWIs exclude somebody from this? Not necessarily. But this becomes a little bit unusual here in the sense that, given the fact that a police officer is supposed to be enforcing DWI, DUI laws, and in this case, the fact that there was a conviction and then a loss of a peace officer’s license. That makes it a much more compelling argument to say that maybe you’re not fit to be able to go back to that job.”

Schultz couldn’t recall any past controversy over this kind of reinstatement.

“It’s relatively rare to have that happen to start with. And when it does happen, it’s relatively routine,” Schultz explained.

In a press release Wednesday, Minnesota Sen. Warren Limmer (R-37) called the 1970s statute a “safety net for failed politicians.”

The release announcing Limmer is looking into repealing the statute came less than 24 hours after news of Hutchinson’s reinstatement broke.

When asked if the former sheriff deserved another chance, Limmer replied, “Of course. I think everyone deserves second chance.”

“Sheriff Hutchinson has his own challenges to address, and I think he’s working on it. But nevertheless, the statute remains and hasn’t been changed in many years,” Limmer continued.

Limmer contends the issue is broader and more political.

“One political party often has jobs in government in addition to their legislative work, and the other political party — Republicans — they rely on the private sector. So when you’re running as a candidate, you don’t have that assuredness as a Republican that you’ve got your job back after you leave public service. That can chill some people from ever wanting to be a candidate.”

It’s a generalization that the current lawmaker roster shows is generally true. Limmer’s professional background is in real estate sales and investment.

“Where do you go that there’s a possibility of being hired in a new job, and if you fail at it, you’re guaranteed your last job by your employer? That doesn’t even make sense,” Limmer said.

When asked about potential changes to the existing law, Schultz said, “Well first off, the question of whether or not we should have such a law like this is a really good question here because we don’t really have too many parallels like this in the private sector.”

“I think there’s the idea of saying we want to encourage people to go into public service. We want to encourage people to maybe run for office, and maybe that’s a good value in our society.”

As for creating similar protections in the private sector, both Schultz and Limmer said such a law would likely mean a rather significant intrusion into the hiring practices of private businesses.

Limmer hasn’t put pen to paper yet. When asked if he has plans to draft legislation, he said he’s looking into it.

The Metro Transit Police Department did not immediately respond to questions about the ongoing personnel investigation that a source told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS was spurred by an internal complaint filed against Hutchinson.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association declined to comment on Hutchinson’s reinstatement.