By Greta Sowles
In 1776, the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, saying in part, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But is Carver County really ensuring these “unalienable rights”? A growing cause in Carver County would suggest not.
Lea Dannewitz created a website called Carver County Corruption in July 2011, on which is included court documents and other information from court cases in Carver County. The site incorporates information from Dannewitz’s own divorce/child custody case with Jeremy Banken, from which Banken gained custody of the couple’s three children.
Over the past two years, the site has continued to grow to include more cases of alleged corruption of the Carver County court system. What was once a blogging website has become a growing cause led by many upset individuals.
Supporters of the cause have recently become more proactive, picketing at the Dakota County courthouse and more recently at the Carver County courthouse on June 25. They have also met with local legislators and have bought space on the electronic billboard on Highway 7 in St. Bonifacius.
Bonnie Roy first got involved with the court system about six years ago, when she went through a divorce case. During this time she began exploring the Carver County Corruption website and got in touch with Dannewitz. Roy was present at one of Dannewitz’s court hearings, and after witnessing first-hand what she felt was mistreatment in the courts, she became much more involved.
“The more I started watching the process, the more I kept thinking there’s something not right here,” said Roy.
The growth started when Roy and Dannewitz would hear more cases and encouraged others to share their stories on the blog. “We can’t just sit back and be okay with what is happening here,” said Roy.
Within 3-6 months of meeting Dannewitz, Roy and others went to the state capitol and met with over 40 legislators. They gave the legislators a brief court history and explained their concerns, but according to Roy, the group’s complaints were basically rejected.
“All of our complaints basically got rejected, stating that there was nothing that [the legislators] could do outside of their power to correct a judge’s ruling, even if it was an illegal mistake,” said Roy.
Additionally, supporters of Carver County Corruption were interviewed in front of the Carver County courthouse for Bill Windsor’s Lawless America, a documentary film about judicial and government corruption in America.
Carver County Corruption’s first picketing event was around two weeks ago at the Dakota County courthouse. The event was in response to a ruling of a case involving a woman who lost custody of her children months after her divorce was finalized.
On June 25, supporters of Carver County Corruption brought the picketing to the Carver County courthouse.
“I guess we were trying to bring more awareness to people and let the court system know that what they are doing is wrong,” said Roy.
Although Roy believes that corruption is happening in other counties, Carver County is the main focus because that is where most of the supporters live.
Minnesota State Representative Ernie Leidiger attended the picketing event to hear the group’s concerns, as he is the state representative for many of those in attendance. As a state representative, Leidiger has occasionally met with supporters of Carver County Corruption during the past few years. Leidiger has even attended a few case hearings, and Roy indicated that his presence at the picketing event was appreciated.
In terms of legislation, the group is focusing on a few issues: legislative oversight of judges, judge gratuities and high court costs.
According to Roy, the Board of Judicial Standards is supposed to be keeping the judges accountable for their actions but is not doing anything to rein the judges in.
“Technically speaking, the state legislators can take action and have the power to reign in these judges and have accountability,” said Roy. “And that is probably our goal, to get it back to the state legislators and say yes you do have the power to change it.”
Roy also added that according to the Judicial Board of Conducting, judges can accept gratuities, which was shocking to her. Carver County Corruption is promoting judge elections.
“A lot of these judges are appointed by the governor and when they step into the position it ends up being an abuse of power and again there is no accountability for their actions,” said Roy.
As of now, judicial reforms are being considered regarding judge gratuities and the code of ethics, performance standards for judges, or judge accountability, and legislative oversight of judges.
Carver County Corruption is working with the Tea Party in Chanhassen to promote the WATCH program, which allows volunteers to be trained to attend court hearings and take notes, which according to Roy, often makes the judge uneasy. According to www.watchmn.org, the WATCH program exists to bring a public eye to justice in the court system.
“It can bring more awareness, and the citizens can actually be a part of that as well,” said Roy. “It’s a little bit time consuming, but people can be proactive that way too.”
The main purpose of group’s use of the billboard on Highway 7 is to bring more exposure to the corruption. While the group’s first billboard photo included only five people, the next photo will include almost 60.
“Once we get some of the donations that are coming in and people willing to support our cause, we are hoping to get the billboards statewide if we can,” said Roy.
Carver County Corruption is working on becoming a 501(C)(4) or a 501(C)(5) organization so that supporters can directly donate to the cause. “I would say we are going to join forces together to bring awareness, and then to hopefully stop some of the corruption that is going on in the county,” she said.
To learn more about Carver County Corruption, visit its website at www.carvercountycorruption.com.
Contact Greta Sowles at [email protected]