Nobles County Commissioners: Contract signed for possible US Supreme Court case

WORTHINGTON - Nobles County has found itself in the unusual position of pre-planning in the event a criminal case originating from Nobles County District Court is heard at the US Supreme Court.

The Nobles County Commissioners Tuesday approved a contract with Travis Smith to handle the case in the event it does head to the country's top court. Smith is currently the Murray County Attorney, and worked previously as an Assistant Nobles County Attorney. He is under contract with Nobles County to do appellate court work, but appearing in front of the US Supreme Court is not the kind of case that was contemplated or is even covered under the current contract.

The agenda item states Smith is giving the county what amounts to a discounted rate because of his desire to be involved in the case and his interest in this kind of work. Proposed by Smith and accepted by the board is a flat fee of $20,000 to cover preparing and filing a response, which was called for this morning. According to Smith, the court asking for a response means that at least one justice is interested in taking a closer look at the case. At least four of the nine justices have to agree before the case will be heard.

In an email to the board, Smith said he expects to spend more than 300 hours working on the case if the US Supreme Court decides to hear it. Under the contract, the county will also reimburse him for all travel expenses related to  arguing the case in Washington DC.

The case in question is one Smith successfully argued to the Minnesota Appellate Court and then the Minnesota Supreme Court regarding the conviction of Cesar Rosario Lopez-Ramos, who was accused of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

At the time the case went to trial in Nobles County District Court, the defense stated their intention to  object to the admission of statements from an interview with law enforcement that were translated via the AT&T Language Line because the state was not going to call the interpreter to testify during the trial.

The district court concluded that the interpreter was acting as a “language conduit” during the interview, meaning that the statements were attributable to Lopez-Ramos as the declarant. Lopez-Ramos was found guilty and sentenced to 144 months in prison. An appellate court later affirmed the conviction, and in a 4-3 decision in June, the Minnesota Supreme Court also upheld the conviction.

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