FAIRMONT — Longtime Martin County prosecutor Terry Viesselman will retire at the end of June. Viesselman has held this position for 27 years.
Viesselman grew up locally in Trimont. He then attended the University of Minnesota Law School, from which he graduated in 1978.
He then returned to the area and worked at the Erickson law firm in Fairmont from 1978 to 1985. Then he joined Bob Walker and Jerry Wilhelm, who was a county attorney. Viesselman became an assistant county attorney. Walker became a judge, and Wilhelm eventually left to become an assistant U.S. attorney.
“I was an assistant county attorney for 6 years until 1991 when Wilhelm retired. Gary Wollschlager was then appointed county attorney for three years and when he had to run for re-election, I filed and was elected and became county attorney on January 1, 1995 and have been county attorney ever since,” says Viesselman.
As county attorney, Viesselman is a public employee and receives a check every two weeks rather than billing for his time. He handles all criminal prosecutions in the county and is Martin County’s attorney.
“I answer legal questions and represent the county in legal matters and do all civil matters,” says Viesselman.
Viesselman has also had a contract with the city of Fairmont to handle all criminal matters since the retirement of city attorney Libby Bloomquist several years ago.
It handles many other legal requirements such as tax appeals, recognizances, and child support enforcement.
When asked what big changes Viesselman had seen in the last three decades of his career, he said crime had increased dramatically.
“It’s mostly drugs. We just didn’t have any when I started. Every once in a while we had someone with LSD or marijuana,” says Viesselman.
Now crystal meth is a big deal, and Viesselman said it gets mixed up in child protection cases.
As things changed within the legislature, Viesselman said they were doing more paperwork and reporting than before. The way they do this has changed as systems have moved to digital repositories.
As this is an elected position, Viesselman has had to submit a nomination every four years and has only run against another opponent once. Currently, no one has applied for the position of Martin County District Attorney. The county is one of two in the state where no one has filed.
Although it was believed that Pete Ogren would be his heir apparent, Ogren left in the fall to join private practice and since then his position has not been filled either.
Viesselman said that as the state adds more rules and regulations, a county attorney’s job has become more difficult. That and the increased nastiness of social media.
“No one wants to be in the county attorney’s office anymore” says Viesselman.
Although it was hard work, Viesselman stuck with him as he saw the role as that of a civil servant.
“You take care of the county and its people and that’s how I’ve always seen it,” says Viesselman.
He said that during the three years he wasn’t in the county attorney’s office, when Gary Wollschlager was county attorney, he found he really missed it.
“I missed not taking care of it so I filed a return request. It’s very rewarding”, says Viesselman.
He noted that chasing people in a small town, especially the one you grew up in, is no fun. Viesselman has many friends and family here and has repeatedly sued people he knows.
“They are not bad people. People make mistakes. I always treat them with respect.” he said.
Viesselman actually intended to retire about two years ago when his wife retired from teaching. However, in this time with Covid, Viesselman said there were a lot of legal issues because of it and the job got interesting, so he stayed to help deal with it.
And then he stayed even longer as positions became available in the office. Now Viesselman said he was somewhat reluctant to leave, but felt it was time nonetheless.
” I will miss it. It will be hard not to get involved and do what I can to help with issues that arise in the county,” says Viesselman.
Earlier in the week, when Martin County commissioners accepted Viesselman’s retirement, he recommended that the board appoint Taylor MGowan as acting county attorney. People can still file as a written candidate.
At the time, the commissioners commented on Viesselman’s availability to speak and ask questions over the years.
“We will miss you. I understand it’s time but I regret letting you go.” said Steve Flohrs.
Kathy Smith said, “Terry has served the citizens of Martin County for 33 years, in a position that is not always easy, but he has always had the best interest of the people he serves in mind.”
While Viesselman will miss work, he looks forward to pursuing other hobbies, namely beekeeping.
“A place is just a place, but parting with friends is a sadness. I will miss everyone I have worked with and interactions with the people of Martin County. I have come to know many people and in many situations, I have helped them and it has been really rewarding. says Viesselman.