Former ND work comp director denied new trial

Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Supreme Court refused Tuesday to give former state workers' compensation director Sandy Blunt a new trial on his felony conviction for misspending public funds.

The court, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Dale Sandstrom, said Blunt "failed to show he was significantly prejudiced" by prosecutors' failure to disclose a state auditor's memo that Blunt claimed was exculpatory.

Blunt already had other paperwork with the same information as the memo, which he did not use at his trial, the Supreme Court's ruling said.

Prosecutors have said they had no evidence they had turned over the document, and have described the disclosure failure as an oversight.

The memo, written by state auditor Jason Wahl, concluded that Blunt did not have to attempt to recoup almost $8,000 in moving expenses from a former Workforce Safety and Insurance executive who had resigned.

Blunt's inaction had been used as an example of his alleged looseness with public money. The executive, Dave Spencer, testified at Blunt's trial that he was forced to quit, which absolved Spencer of any obligation to repay the moving costs.

"Wahl did not testify that Spencer's resignation was voluntary, and that he believed WSI had a legal obligation to seek repayment of the relocation expenses," the Supreme Court's opinion says. "It is not clear how Wahl's testimony would have changed."

Blunt did not respond Tuesday to an emailed request for comment on the Supreme Court's ruling. His attorney, Michael Hoffman, declined comment.

Blunt was North Dakota's workers' compensation director for almost four years before he was forced out in December 2007.

He was charged with two felony counts of misspending public funds, largely on the strength of a state audit report that was critical of WSI's spending practices.

Blunt was convicted of one of the felonies, which carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. South Central District Judge Bruce Romanick deferred Blunt's sentence and ordered him to perform 1,000 hours of community service.

The Supreme Court affirmed Blunt's conviction in July 2010. Tuesday's ruling decided a separate appeal in which Blunt argued that prosecutors' failure to turn over the Wahl memo entitled him to a new trial.

Blunt was prosecuted by Lloyd Suhr, an assistant Burleigh County state's attorney, and Cynthia Feland, a former Burleigh County assistant. Feland was elected to a South Central District judgeship last year.