Steven Dornsbach won a rare acquittal in federal court in May when a jury found him and his concrete construction company not guilty of rigging bids for public projects. But that was far from the end of the 69-year-old Hamel man's legal saga.
Now Dornsbach and his attorneys are urging the U.S. Department of Justice to remove from its website a news release announcing his indictment last year, arguing that its continued prominence in web search results is hurting the family business.
"It means a lot to me because I'm not a cheater, I didn't steal from anybody, and I didn't bribe anybody," Dornsbach said in an interview last week. "It's over, but they could at least take my name off there. I didn't do anything wrong."
Prosecutors for the Justice Department's Antitrust Division accused Dornsbach of conspiring with Clarence Olson, another Minnesota concrete contractor. They said Olson submitted "intentionally losing" price quotes to Twin Cities municipalities and school districts at Dornsbach's request that were higher than the prices included in quotes for Kamida Inc., a concrete company Dornsbach started in 1986.
Olson pleaded guilty in 2021 to charges of conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition, and a grand jury indicted Dornsbach and Kamida the following year. The charges carried maximum penalties of 10 years in prison, a $1 million fine for Dornsbach and a $100 million fine for the company.
During a seven-day trial, testimony on behalf of Dornsbach and his company argued that the pricing for jobs alleged by the government to be rigged was within the range of other jobs that weren't alleged to be rigged. An email from the city of Plymouth showed that many of Kamida's prices were half those of competitors.
After a jury found Dornsbach and his company not guilty, the Justice Department's Office of Public Affairs added a disclaimer at the top of the story noting that Dornsbach and Kamida had since been acquitted of the charges described in the news release.
But Dornsbach wants the release taken off the web entirely, pointing out that the indictment announcement remains one of the top search results online for Dornsbach's name or Kamida, which he has since sold to his two sons.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Traynor of North Dakota — presiding over the case because the past representation of Olson by a now magistrate judge disqualified Minnesota federal jurists from the case — refused to grant a permanent injunction this month that would have required the Justice Department to remove the news release from its website.
Traynor wrote that Dornsbach had failed to show the court had jurisdiction to make such an order. The judge also cited the disclaimer in the news release noting Dornsbach's acquittal and added that the release did not claim the defendants were guilty of the crime charged.
Dornsbach's attorneys, Chris Madel and Jennifer Robbins, are appealing the decision to the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Madel previously wrote U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter urging the department to take down the news release, calling it defamatory.
Dornsbach also wrote to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whose office forwarded the letter to the Justice Department.
"I just want it to end," he wrote. "But the press release says I'm a criminal, a cheat and a liar. I'm none of those things."
He said several municipalities have told his sons they can't do business because of what comes up on web searches.
Eun-Ha Kim, a prosecutor with the Antitrust Division, previously argued that the release was accurate on its face and that maintaining news releases online was important to "provide insight into how prosecutors are using public resources."
"That's an important piece of information for the public to have about how the government carries out business in the public's name," said Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota. "If the government starts taking down things like that it means that the digital paper trail is going to vanish as well, which makes it a lot easier for government or any other entity to hide misfeasance, malfeasance and discriminatory actions."