In the Spotlight

News & Features
Appellate court judge charged with swindling woman
By Elizabeth Stawicki
Minnesota Public Radio
February 27, 2002

Charges against a former Court of Appeals judge detail a man who has swindled more than $300,000 from a vulnerable adult's trust fund. The Hennepin County Attorney alleges Roland Amundson used the money to buy artwork and remodel his two homes. The County Attorney's office Tuesday filed five counts of theft by swindle against Amundson who resigned after 11 years on Minnesota's Court of Appeals.

"I think anyone who's in a position of trust - a police officer or a doctor or a lawyer - people hold you to a certain level of accountability; they put their faith in you," said Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar.
(MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki)

The complaint charged Roland Amundson with stealing $313,000 from a trust fund he managed for a deceased friend's daughter. That daughter suffers from what's called small brain syndrome which impairs her mentally, emotionally and physically and requires her to have around-the-clock care.

According to the complaint, Amundson bought over $30,000 in art work with the trust money. Documents show he bought thousands of dollars worth of sculptures and paintings from art galleries throughout the U.S. In one case he paid $3,000 to commission a portrait of his father through Manitou Art Gallery in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Investigators tracked that purchase to a debit from the trust fund which was listed as money for Manitou Bed and Equipment.

Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar says the charges are particularly troubling given Amundson's position.

"I think anyone who's in a position of trust - a police officer or a doctor or a lawyer - people hold you to a certain level of accountability; they put their faith in you. And that's why a case like this is even more troubling and perhaps that's why he was able to get away with it for so long because people believe he's a judge; we can trust him," she said.

The complaint also details how Amundson used nearly $60,000 of the fund to have contract work done at his two homes. That work included: $10,000 in landscaping and installing marble floors and granite countertops at his Indian Hills home.

He used the trust fund money to pay architects, electric contractors, interior designers to remodel his homes. The complaint says he even bought his children a playset with $3,000 from the fund.

Amundson's attorney, Ron Meshbesher, says Amundson will plead guilty to the charges. He says his client is humiliated, embarassed, extremely remorseful and will pay back any money he owes to the trust.

"He went into a tailspin after his mother's death and did some bizarre behavior thereafter and he's still in somewhat of a depression," said Meshbesher. "It's not a legal excuse, but it is an explanation for uncharacteristic conduct."

Amundson has been a well-liked and personable jurist. He's considered a thoughtful legal scholar who graduated from the University of Notre Dame and a received a divinity degree from the University of Chicago.

Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar says her office did get calls from the legal community on Amundson's behalf.

"They'd call other people in the office and say, 'He's a good guy. He's someone we know.' But we just don't consider that because we have to look at the case and what the facts are and charges. They can still be his friends but they're going to understand this was a serious breach of trust; this is a serious crime and we will prosecute this case just like we would someone who isn't a judge," said Klobuchar.

The charges of impropriety against Amundson are not the first against an appellate court-level judge in Minnesota. According to the book For the Record, 150 years of Law and Lawyers in Minnesota, Chief Justice Aaron Goodrich was removed from office in 1852 when Minnesota was still a territory. The book says several prominent Minnesota attorneys charged Goodrich with "incompetency, unfitness and improprieties committed on and off the bench."

Roland Amundson is listed as a contributing writer to that section of the book.

He could face nearly four years in prison.