St. Paul City Attorney John Choi resigns to avoid perception of conflicts as he runs for county attorney

St. Paul Attorney John Choi — who is running for Ramsey County Attorney in November — told his staff today that he is resigning his city job and going into private practice for the next eight months, at least.

He said he’s resigning to avoid concerns that the city attorney’s office might have any political motives in its prosecutorial decisions and advice to city leaders while he’s running for another political office.

He said there have been no conflicts of interest but wants to avoid even the appearance of any conflicts.

“Being the St. Paul city attorney and running for another public office brings lots of scrutiny on everything we do,” he said this afternoon. “I believe the work we do is so important that I don’t want there to be a perception that the advice we give is about me, as I’m running for Ramsey County attorney.”

Choi, whose family moved to St. Paul from South Korea when he was 3, said he’s accepted an offer from the McGrann Shea law firm in Minneapolis, where he’ll work on civil cases. He said he’ll continue to campaign for the county post, and if he loses the election, he’ll stay on with the law firm.

Mayor Chris Coleman is expected to name an interim city attorney in the next few days and then conduct a search for a permanent replacement.

Coleman appointed Choi to the city attorney job in 2006. Choi’s most publicized efforts came during and after the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. About 675 protesters were arrested, but Choi’s office declined to prosecute or dismissed 80 percent of those cases. Of the 18 cases that went to trial, nine resulted in convictions and nine in acquittals.

During his tenure, Choi worked to get civil gang injunctions to keep gang members from attending Cinco de Mayo and other city festivals. He also greatly shortened the time needed to charge domestic abuse suspects who leave the scene before police arrive.

John Stechmann, a prosecutor in the city attorney’s office and also head of the attorneys’ union, said Choi greatly improved office morale and is responsible for keeping many experienced attorneys from leaving the office for other jobs.

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