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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

So, what does the County Attorney do anyway?

It's not like you see on TV.  Although crime dramas featuring prosecutors are common on television I find that many people don't really understand what their County Attorney does.  (One thing that is for certain we - unlike TV prosecutors - work on more than one case at a time).

Here are the highlights:

Prosecute criminal cases.  This is the primary job of the County Attorney.  Our office prosecutes every violation of state law occurring in Muscatine County.  We also prosecute violations of county ordinances.  Lawyers from the County Attorney's Office are in court every day on criminal cases - about 1400 indictable offenses per year.

Represent the state in juvenile court.  We present evidence on behalf of the Department of Human Services in child welfare and termination of parental rights cases.  The County Attorney's duty is to protect children by advocating for the DHS's position.  We also are the prosecutor in juvenile delinquency cases.

Represent the county and its officials.  A governmental body has the same legal issues that many corporations would have.  We enter into contracts to buy goods and services - these are reviewed by our office.  Sometimes we have employment or labor law questions that need to be answered.  The county also has a number of civil law issues which are specific to government: zoning enforcement, tax assessment appeals, and condemnation for road projects are all good examples.

There are a large number of other statutory duties of the County Attorney.  If you're interested you can look here.

One thing our office does not do is provide legal advice to the public.  We get calls on a daily basis from people who are asking about their personal legal problems: landlord/tenant, consumer issues, domestic relations, etc.  By law we cannot give advice in these situations - after all the person you are having the dispute is probably a county resident too.  For these types of issues we tell people to seek the advice of a private attorney.