Nelson handles increasing caseload

Published 9:23 am Friday, October 15, 2010

Craig Nelson has served the residents of Freeborn County for 19 years as county attorney and is seeking re-election this November. He is uncontested in the race.

Nelson, 60, resides in Albert Lea with wife, Mary. He has two daughters and one son-in-law.

Craig Nelson

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He has served on the boards of several community organizations over the years, including the American Red Cross, the Albert Lea Child Care Center and County Credit Union. He has been the president of the Art Center, the Family Y and was a founding board member of Senior Resources of Freeborn County.

In his spare time, he enjoys bicycle riding on various area trails.


Nelson was born and raised in Freeborn County. After graduating from Alden-Conger High School in 1968, he went on to attend St. Olaf College in Northfield, where he received a bachelor of arts degree. He went to graduate school in Mansfield College of Oxford University in England.

Nelson finished his law studies at the University of North Dakota Law School in Grand Forks, N.D., in 1976 and started serving the county as assistant Freeborn County attorney that October.

He worked in private practice, served as a public defender for Freeborn and Mower counties, and as city attorney for Alden, among other positions, before becoming the Freeborn County attorney in January 1991.

His professional service includes serving as president of the 800-member County Attorney Association.

Nelson said what he enjoys most is providing a variety of legal services to the people of Freeborn County and all of the people his position has allowed him to meet and work with.

His office is organized into five areas of work: adult criminal, juvenile criminal, civil, family and protective services.


Nelson said the number of cases prosecuted each year by the Freeborn County Attorney’s Office has increased significantly over the past 19 years. He said this is in large part because of the way law enforcement has changed over the years.

“For example, back then when a domestic violation occurred it was hush-hush. Law enforcement was not called to as many situations,” he said.

He said the growth in general public awareness has prompted interest groups and as this has been in transition, so has the way law enforcement responds to these offenses. “Law enforcement is now trained to investigate and deal with these problems,” he said.

Although there are still sometimes problems prosecuting these cases, Nelson said the way the law has evolved — adding layers to punishments based on prior offenses — has helped in giving tougher punishments to those convicted of such crimes.

Nelson said the most common types of offenses that come through his office now are drug offenses, assaults and thefts.

“Add to that DWI’s and you’ve covered almost 70 percent of the kinds of charges we have,” he said.


Nelson said that while Freeborn County has always been frugal, his office included, county government is in a financial crisis.

“The state is not providing funding it previously provided, which is true with cities and schools,” he said. “Our primary concern becomes keeping the level of services we have and making sure we have the ability to do our work on less money. Public safety becomes the issue here.”

In spite of this, Nelson continues to run his office within a budget he says has remained, for the most part, unchanged over the past 19 years.

He credits the depth of experience in his office for this. He also said that with just seven employees in his office, when compared to other county attorney’s offices in this state of the same size, he has the lowest.

Nelson credits innovations in technology for this accomplishment. His office helped develop a program now used by about 70 other cities and counties, which helps track cases, case history, and status on cases.

“We’ve been a leader in E-charging, E-filing and E-disclosure,” he said.

He said this all lends itself to efficiency, as it saves paper, moves cases through the system faster, offers the ability to handle the number of matters more quickly and aids in more efficiency drafting documents.

“The one thing I can do, and have done, is work longer hours,” Nelson added.

One issue Nelson sees emerging in the next four years is the push from state legislation to combine county resources with neighboring counties, in terms of criminal prosecution services.

“In criminal justice, that’s not appropriate,” he said.

“People want their matters handled locally. They want to talk with a prosecutor locally,” said. “Constituents should have access to me.”