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Mahnomen County vacates office of county attorney after license suspension

Ekaterina Bolovtsova via Pexels

The Minnesota Supreme Court suspended Mahnomen County Attorney Julie Bruggeman's license to practice law after a petition citing numerous instances of unethical misconduct.

MAHNOMEN — The Mahnomen County Board of Commissioners officially vacated the county attorney’s office this week.

The Tuesday, Nov. 28, vote comes after the Minnesota Supreme Court and Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility suspended Mahnomen County Attorney Julie Bruggeman’s license to practice law in July.

"The Board and residents of Mahnomen County expect that all employees and elected officials representing the County will adhere to the highest ethical standards," a news release stated. "The Board takes this action seriously and after due deliberation and with the advice of legal counsel."

According to the suspension order, Bruggeman was cited with numerous ethical violations, including forging a client’s signature, representing clients with a conflict of interest, fabricating documents and making knowingly false statements to both clients and the director investigating her misconduct.

The conduct took place as part of Bruggeman's representation of a personal injury client in private practice over the course of six years.

Bruggeman admitted to the allegations of the petition. She was suspended indefinitely in the June order and only able to petition for reinstatement after 90 days. Bruggeman filed the petition in October and it remains under consideration.

A condition of her potential reinstatement is to successfully complete the written exam required for admission to practice law by the Minnesota State Board of Law Examiners. According to Bruggeman's petition, she was scheduled to take the test in early November.

Director Susan M. Humiston considered a longer suspension based on dishonesty in the case and in the office's investigation, according to a memo attached to the supreme court decision. But Bruggeman cited "extreme stress" as playing a role in her actions.

"The court's case law indicates that extreme personal turmoil ... can provide mitigation for passive misconduct such as lack of diligence but is less probative regarding active misconduct, such as dishonesty," the memo stated.

This was Bruggeman’s second public reprimand from the Minnesota Supreme Court, with a recorded reprimand in 2018, and another from the North Dakota Supreme Court in 2016.

Currently, Jason Hastings is managing the Mahnomen County Attorney’s office as an interim and will continue serving in that role until the board appoints a permanent County Attorney. Bruggeman was placed on unpaid administrative leave while Hastings served in her stead. This most recent action officially terminates Bruggeman’s term of office, which otherwise would have expired in 2026.

The Detroit Lakes Tribune reported Bruggeman ran for the seat unopposed last November, after being appointed to the position earlier in 2022 when then-County Attorney Mitchell Schluter took a new job in Anoka County. She also served as Mahnomen County Attorney from 2003 to 2010.