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Former Minnesota chief justice to oversee sex offender program overhaul

The former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court will play a key role in the overhaul of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. A federal judge on Thursday appointed Eric J. Magnuson as a special master in the ongoing litigation over the cont...

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Former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson was appointed as a special master by a federal judge Thursday in the ongoing litigation over the controversial treatment facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. (2013 file photo / News Tribune)
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The former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court will play a key role in the overhaul of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

A federal judge on Thursday appointed Eric J. Magnuson as a special master in the ongoing litigation over the controversial treatment facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank last month declared the program's indefinite confinement of sex offenders unconstitutional and ordered changes to the program through a remedies phase.

Frank said Magnuson, who led a task force that recommended an overhaul of the program in 2013, will play a "nonadversarial" role in working with the parties to establish changes. Magnuson will serve in a pro bono capacity, working at no cost to the court or the parties.

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a judge can appoint a special master to conduct proceedings and carry out judicial orders.

"The appointment of a Special Master in this case is necessary to coordinate the efforts of the parties" following the finding of unconstitutionality, Frank wrote, "to accommodate the public interest in achieving prompt and just solutions to the serious constitutional problems identified by the Court, and to lessen the expense and strain of resources on the Court and the parties in a case of this magnitude."

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Frank's appointment of Magnuson came a day after the judge denied the state of Minnesota's bid to file an expedited appeal of the verdict.

The state had asked the judge to certify his June 17 ruling, allowing for an immediate appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, even as the case continues into the remedies phase at the district level.

Frank denied the motion, saying that the ruling did not meet the legal standards of a "final judgment," given that the work of the district court has not concluded.

Frank's finding that the program was unconstitutional came in a class-action lawsuit brought by several sex offenders confined at the two facilities.

In a 76-page order, Frank wrote, "The stark reality is that there is something very wrong with this state's method of dealing with sex offenders in a program that has never fully discharged anyone committed to its detention facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter since its inception in 1994."

The judge stopped short of shutting down the program or ordering the immediate release of any offenders, but ordered unspecified changes to be made "immediately."

Related Topics: CRIME
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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