Supreme Court rules against State Auditor Otto

The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled against State Auditor Rebecca Otto in her challenge of a law that limited her office’s authority.

Otto challenged a 2015 law that allows county officials to bypass the state auditor’s office and hire private accountants to conduct their annual financial reviews. She argued the law was unconstitutional and undermined the core function of her office.

A district court judge and the Minnesota Court of Appeals had previously ruled against Otto.

In an opinion Wednesday affirming the earlier court of appeals ruling, the Minnesota Supreme Court said the law does not violate the separation of powers clause or the single subject clause of the constitution.

The court said the Legislature “left untouched the bulk of the duties conferred on the State Auditor,” including audits of cities, towns, school districts and other political subdivisions.

Otto did not concede defeat. Instead, she said the court affirmed her office’s constitutional authority.

“The supreme court has now made clear that the State Auditor has authority and responsibility over county finances, including the authority to conduct additional examinations of a county following a private CPA firm audit, and that the counties are responsible for the costs,” Otto said in a statement.

Otto is not seeking another term as auditor. She is a DFL candidate for governor.

Republican lawmakers have criticized Otto’s use of taxpayer money to fight the law. A tally last year showed her legal bills at over $250,000.

In her statement, Otto defended the cost.

“Our office was able to carry out this two-year fight at a much smaller cost to the taxpayers than the Legislature’s own recent litigation against the governor,” she said.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, chair of the State Government Finance Committee, said she was not surprised by the court’s unanimous ruling.

“It’s unfortunate that Auditor Otto’s stubborn and unnecessary lawsuit has come at great cost to state and local taxpayers,” Anderson said.