Last Man Standing

In the 25 years that he's served as Hennepin County's first and only chief public defender, Bill Kennedy has earned a tough-as-nails reputation for the way he defends his clients, his staff, and himself. This year he's pitted against Hennepin County prose

          Whatever their previous relationship, it's clear that by the time the court ordered McGee to pay child support, the couple had very little to say to each other. McGee says Scott filed a complaint against him with the lawyers' board. Board records aren't public except for the rare cases in which a public discipline is issued. He also says she made "harassing phone calls" to him both at the Legal Rights Center and the county attorney's office.

          This October, Scott--now under her married name of Elgren--filed a petition for a domestic-abuse restraining order against McGee. She alleged that during the paternity hearing, McGee had "declined any rights to visitation with Jeremy and stated that he wanted nothing to do with him," but that since then, he had repeatedly warned Jeremy that "he could pick him up at school whenever he wanted to, and that he would never see his mother again." (McGee has joint legal custody of the boy.)

          This usually happened, Elgren said, "whenever people start questioning Loretta about [McGee]. William also threatens Loretta by telling her that if she talks to anyone about him, he'll make false allegations about her to child protection. Jeremy is afraid to go to school because he is terrified that his father will pick him up... [McGee] contacts Loretta or Jeremy only when he is in trouble and is concerned that Loretta will say something that could hurt him somehow."

          The most recent threats, Elgren alleged, came after McGee learned that the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was looking into allegations regarding their relationship. The BCA, she said, had been tipped off by a "confidential internal investigation" the Hennepin County public defender's office started in early October. (Sources at the office say they were contacted by Elgren, interviewed her, and then turned the matter over to the state. Neither they nor anyone else involved with the matter will say publicly what the investigation dealt with, except to say that it goes beyond the claim of harassment and into what McGee confirms are criminal allegations. They are, he adds, "totally false.")

          According to court documents, Elgren filed the complaint acting as her own attorney. She also signed an affidavit asking for court fees to be waived because she made only $710 a month in child support and part-time work. Ramsey County District Court Judge Michael Monahan dismissed the complaint November 4 because of a legal technicality; Elgren refiled it the same day as a harassment case. This time, she had a lawyer. It was Peter Cahill.

          Cahill, who in his solo law practice does occasional contract work for Kennedy's office, says he didn't get involved in the case for political reasons. "I don't care who becomes public defender," he says. "I just want this taken care of. There was a relationship between Loretta and Bill McGee, and now there's an eight-year-old child. I don't want to see Jeremy become the victim of a bunch of political nonsense. They're just going to have to work out this problem." Elgren likewise says that "as far as I'm concerned, [McGee] could be flipping burgers, and I'd still be doing this. I just want him to leave me alone, and if he wants visitation to go to counseling."

          Whatever Cahill and Elgren's reasons, the case clearly has major political overtones. McGee, who denies most everything in the complaint "except that I'm Jeremy's father," says he's convinced the objective is "to have this come out in the media." On November 14, Doug Hall, acting as McGee's attorney, filed a response to Elgren's complaint in court, something not required in a harassment case. "We did it," Hall says, "to put it on the record, and also to get some publicity."

          In the response, McGee called Elgren's allegations "totally false and complete fabrication." Rather than refusing to see his son, he said, he "repeatedly tried to arrange visitation through Loretta, but was denied reasonable visitation." He acknowledged that the BCA had contacted him in late October and said he'd "made a full and complete statement" to the investigators. He also alleged that Elgren "manipulated and abused Jeremy and forces him to repeat false accusations."

          Speaking during breaks at a court hearing regarding the harassment complaint Monday, McGee was combative. "What's happened to me is Machiavellian and Hoover-like," he said. "My life has been hell since September 27," when he applied for the chief's job. He noted the alleged timing of the "confidential investigation" in the public defender's office: "You have to wonder about that. Why would they start such an investigation days or weeks after I filed my application? I can't say it's Kennedy personally, but someone in that office is doing this."

          Doug Hall, for his part, says it's clear that his friend McGee "has pretty poor judgment sometimes. He gets himself involved in sticky situations. But he's got some very strongly defined goals, and I think he's keeping his eye on those goals and he's not going to let what Kennedy is trying to do to him divert him from those goals. I have always been an admirer of the things [Kennedy]'s done, and I'm just aghast at what could be driving him to carry on this stuff now." Kennedy denies that he or his office instigated the allegations. Elgren's harassment complaint is scheduled for another hearing Tuesday.

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