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Published September 10, 2013, 09:34 AM

Trial opens in second lawsuit against Grand Forks County alleging misuse of elder’s assets

A second jury trial seeking damages from Grand Forks County over alleged misdeeds by the county’s former public administrator is set to begin today, 11 days after a similar lawsuit ended with no financial damages assigned to the county.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

A second jury trial seeking damages from Grand Forks County over alleged misdeeds by the county’s former public administrator is set to begin today, 11 days after a similar lawsuit ended with no financial damages assigned to the county.

In the latest lawsuit, Faith Krueger, through her attorney, Tim Lamb, says she had more than $300,000 in cash and property when Barb Zavala, the county’s public administrator, took over her affairs in 2011. Her assets weren’t accounted for by Zavala, Krueger says in her suit seeking damages from the county because it was Zavala’s employer at the time.

It will be the same players as the trial held the last week in August over a similar suit brought by Paul Veum: Lamb also represented him, Howard Swanson again is the county’s attorney in the case and state District Judge Richard Geiger of Grafton again will preside, and Howard Swanson is the county’s attorney in the case. Some of the same witnesses are slated to testify.

It involves a rather arcane office dating back to different times in state and county government and how to care for people with little and no one else to oversee the little they have.

As in Veum’s trial, Swanson will argue there is no evidence that Krueger had what she says she had when Zavala was appointed her guardian and conservator and no proof Zavala took anything. Even if she did, the county isn’t liable because it had no control or authority over Zavala’s work, Swanson will say, based on court documents.

Lamb argues Zavala was a county employee, making the county liable for her failure to do her duty as public administrator, including accounting for Krueger’s estate.

Krueger lives in a Grand Forks assisted living facility.

A jury in Veum’s case found that while Zavala breached her fiduciary duty to the elderly man, there was no proof of damages to him, so the county was liable for nothing.

Jury selection in Krueger’s civil case is scheduled to begin this morning in a Grand Forks court room.

Separate from the lawsuits, state and federal prosecutors have been investigating allegations about Zavala’s handling of assets of the county’s wards while she was public administrator from 2008 to early 2012 but no criminal charges have been laid.

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