Judge makes allegations of ‘vindictiveness’ on part of Mille Lacs county attorney; county attorney fires back
A Mille Lacs County judge, the Honorable Matthew M. Quinn, recently dismissed a perjury charge against a woman, Lucinda Lou Miller, in a 2015 civil case where Miller gave false information in a deposition about her knowledge of items that were part of the civil case she filed seeking equitable relief and the dissolution and liquidation of assets of Noble Wear, a custom apparel business based out of Onamia.
Miller was charged with perjury based on statements she made in a 2017 deposition where she stated she did not know the whereabouts of a door, reportedly worth $20,000, and a mantle in which the partner of the business, Brockton Holbert, said she took. Miller reversed her statement in a later affidavit indicating she knew where the property was, and she hadn’t shared the location of the door and mantle because she was scared that Holbert would show up and steal more of her property. The door and mantle were later discovered by a law enforcement officer on the property of a third party known to Miller.
As part of the dismissal of perjury charges, Judge Matthew M. Quinn made allegations specifically towards Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh regarding his reasoning for dismissing the perjury case. The allegations included a “vindictiveness” and using a “pressure campaign” on the part of the Mille Lacs County Attorney’s Office’s decision to charge defendant with perjury.
Quinn also argued that the decision made by the county attorney’s office to charge Miller with perjury was a part of a “pressure campaign” by Miller’s former boyfriend and business partner Brockton Holbert who, along with his lawyers, Curott & Associates, was said to have lobbied for criminal charges made against her.
The judge argued that criminal charges were brought against Miller to force a settlement and avoid legal costs associated with Miller’s litigation against Brocton Holbert, her former boyfriend and business partner. County Attorney Joe Walsh had been previously employed with Curott & Associates, who were also the attorneys for Holbert in Miller’s original case. Judge Quinn referred to Walsh’s former employment with Curott’s law firm as a potential reason for why Walsh “would make such a potentially unethical decision,” inferring that Curott & Associates lobbied to have criminal charges made against Miller.
However, Walsh said he intentionally had little to do with the case for that reason and that the allegations are false.
Guilt by association? Or a ‘pressure campaign?’
“I specifically assigned it (the Miller case) to another attorney to avoid these sorts of problems, so there could be no question as to the independence of our office,” said Walsh.
When asked his specific interactions with Curott & Associates, Walsh said there was only an initial phone call as to how to report a criminal case.
“He (Curott) was directed to law enforcement, and that was the only contact I had with Mr. Curott. It lasted about ten seconds,” noted Walsh. He added that he wasn’t monitoring the case in any way other than to see if it was still active or not in hopes that the civil case would resolve first.
An attorney working under Walsh had been handling the case and charged Miller with two perjury charges regarding the property she knew about and alleged perjury about a prior arrest in Kentucky in 2015. The latter charge was dismissed, but the State of Minnesota continued to pursue the first charge.
“The case was assigned to Assistant County Attorney Brian Wold,” said Walsh. “He wasn’t given any direction on charging. If I assign a case to someone to independently review, they have the discretion to charge or decline the case as they see fit. He was to independently review the case, and that’s what he did.”
Realistic likelihood of vindictiveness?
Judge Quinn dismissed the perjury charge also claiming there was a “realistic likelihood of vindictiveness on the part of the Mille Lacs County Attorney’s Office’s decision to charge defendant with perjury.”
When asked why Quinn would direct any type of “vindictiveness” to Walsh specifically with Walsh’s county attorney’s office charging Miller with perjury, Walsh couldn’t speculate.
“What I can tell you is the judicial branch has a report called the judicial pending report. All judges are graded on the speed with which they resolve cases,” said Walsh. “The general direction is that most cases should be resolved in one year. I suspect that Judge Quinn was very frustrated with the civil case continuing into its fifth year. It’s possible that dismissing the criminal case (the perjury case against Miller) could make the civil case easier to resolve.”
Walsh added, “Frankly, that’s why we asked for reconsideration as to whether Judge Quinn should be disqualified. It creates that appearance of impropriety if you have a judge dismissing a criminal case ... and at the same time, it helps resolve a civil case presided over by the same judge.”
Walsh said he was blindsided by the judge’s statements. “The defendant’s attorney had a theory; they came to a conspiracy theory that just wasn’t true. He believes that Mr. Curott is somehow influencing my office. I can tell you that I’ve had half a dozen conversations with Mr. Curott in five years. I don’t keep in touch with him closely. It’s just not accurate.”
Though it’s rare for a perjury case to be presented to his office, it’s likely because people take their oath seriously, said Walsh. “It’s rare that a case would even be submitted for consideration for perjury. It does happen; the most common way it happens is in criminal cases where someone has testified about something at a trial that became proven false at a later date.”
Judge Quinn also noted that allowing such a perjury charge to move forward would inhibit civil attorneys from advising their clients to file an affidavit to correct an earlier statement because the county attorney’s office in Mille Lacs County may proceed with perjury charges. He added this lack of information, referring to any corrections made, would impact the judiciary branch causing the entire civil discovery process to be impacted.
Possible impact of judge’s decision on future cases
Walsh countered the judge’s claim by stating, “This case is going to have a chilling effect on crimes being charged in the future because we’ll be worried about how a judge is going to look at these related civil cases that we’re not supposed to put any consideration into. When that’s exactly what Judge Quinn did in this case.”
Criminal cases related to other civil cases, he explained, include civil disputes like child custody matters with children in need of protection, probate actions, contract disputes, property disputes, guardianships, conservatorships, or personal injury lawsuits. He said, “Basically anytime there is a related civil case, it’s going to potentially cause us not to file a criminal case that otherwise we would–because of this order. You could imagine a child abuse case where there is a related child custody case.”
Walsh added that the county attorney’s office prosecutes many cases that have related civil cases. “There’s nothing particularly special about this one, and there are a lot of different people on both sides that will attempt to pressure my office. We always pride ourselves on handling cases independently,” he said.
Walsh requested reconsideration of the matter for the sole purpose of reconsidering whether Judge Quinn’s experience with the civil case requires that he recuse himself from the criminal case under the Code of Judicial Conduct. That request was granted, and Walsh filed a Motion to disqualify Judge Quinn from the perjury case, which by rule must be decided by the Chief Judge of the Seventh Judicial District. Instead of referring the matter to the Chief Judge, Judge Quinn set a new motion hearing to be heard by Judge Quinn himself in March. On January 27, 2020, the state also filed a dismissal of the Miller criminal case for reasons that included Judge Quinn pressuring the Mille Lacs County Attorney’s Office to have a “fire sale” to clear cases off of the judicial calendar.
Judge Quinn is graded by State Court Administration based on his age of his pending cases, added Walsh. He said judges are graded on whether they are able to resolve 90 percent of cases within 12 months, 97 percent in 18 months, and 99 percent in 24 months. Judges are notified of their clearance rates, time to disposition, and age of pending cases via CourtNet, the nonpublic intranet of the Minnesota Judicial Branch. The Lucinda Miller civil case is now in its fifth year in litigation.
“It is not appropriate to dismiss a criminal case to assist in the resolution of a civil case that is causing frustration to a judge presiding over both matters,” said Walsh. “This is precisely why the Code of Judicial Conduct exists. This is not a close call.”