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Court bench awaits former city attorney

Over the 20-plus years Hastings City Attorney Shawn Moynihan has been in office, he's seen plenty of people come and go, including three mayors, two city administrators, two fire chiefs, three police chiefs, three city clerks and eight city planners.

He's also attended more than 550 Hastings City Council meetings.

"It's uncommon to find someone with such a distinguished public service record," Hastings Mayor Paul Hicks said at Moynihan's final council meeting as city attorney last week.

Moynihan was recently appointed a first judicial district judge, ending an approximately 22-year career with the City of Hastings. Moynihan will be sworn in as judge today at the Dakota County Judicial Center.

At his last meeting as city attorney, Moynihan expressed his deep regard for the office he held.

"It's a position that I always respected," he said. "It truly was a privilege and an honor."

Moynihan started coming to city council meetings in 1982 when his partner, Don Fluegel, was city attorney. Moynihan was starting to help with city-related business, and he found it beneficial to be at the meetings and hear the discussion firsthand instead of having it relayed to him from Fluegel.

The first time he sat at the council table during a meeting was Nov. 19, 1984, which coincidentally was the first council meeting that was videotaped for Hastings Cable TV.

"I was nervous because now I was up there and if I was asked a question, I wanted to know the answer," Moynihan said.

He learned about some areas of municipal law in law school, but a lot of his knowledge came on the job. The basic legal principles were often the same, but things like the data practices act, open meeting law and the rules governing open bids, were things Moynihan had to research and pick up along the way.

Over the years, Moynihan worked on many projects for the city, some of which stand out in the community and others that never came to fruition.

Moynihan was instrumental in the purchase of the current Hastings City Hall. Before the city bought it, the building was the Dakota County Courthouse. Moynihan began his career as a lawyer there, prosecuting his first case in one of the smaller courtrooms.

In 1989, he was also the prosecutor in the last case ever tried in the building in what is now known as the Hastings Community Room.

He remembers the room, which was the main courtroom in the building, as it once was, with high-backed cane chairs and a jury box along the east-facing windows. One thing that hasn't changed over the years, though, is the room's acoustics.

"The acoustics were terrible," he said.

Before his last council meeting, the city held a reception in the Community Room for Moynihan. He said he found it ironic that the reception was in the same room where he got his start as a lawyer.

"I thought, 'Here I am ending my lawyer career in here,'" he said.

He also remembers working on two projects that didn't end as successfully, one of which brought him to North Carolina on a day trip with then Mayor Lu Stoffel to talk to someone about financing a hotel on the river in downtown. The other was the ill-fated Twin Gables project, which also never materialized.

A lot has changed in Hastings throughout Moynihan's career. Specifically, he remembers moving to town when Highway 55 was a two-lane road through town and Papa Charrito's was in Marshan Township.

One thing that hasn't changed, according to Moynihan, is Hastings' small-town feel. He said the city is able to retain its character partly because it's not surrounded by other cities.

"When you drive into Hastings, you know you're in Hastings," he said.

At Moynihan's last council meeting he spoke about how much he was going to miss the people he's come to know so well in the city.

"After being with the city for so long, the people really become part of your family," he said. "You share the good times and the bad times.

"Most attorneys don't get to work with people for so long. You usually work with a client for a few months, and then move on."

Now, Moynihan is finally moving on as he gets set to become a judge. He said it's not something he always knew he'd do, but it was in the back of his mind.

"I had thought about it, like all lawyers do," he said.

Dan Fluegel, Don's son and Moynihan's partner at their law office, will take over as Hastings City Attorney.