Gov's power to remove ND officials rarely used

Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — One mayor was removed for ignoring gambling, prostitution and general debauchery in his town. A county sheriff was booted for a string of drunken-driving arrests, even though a jury had acquitted him of the criminal charge that got him ousted.

North Dakota's governor has rarely used his power to remove local elected officials for wrongdoing or failing to do their jobs. Gov. Jack Dalrymple could be one exception.

Dalrymple is mulling a request to sack the Pembina County state's attorney, Stuart Askew, for allegedly neglecting prosecutions, skipping county commission meetings, ignoring requests for legal advice and help in preparing search warrants and being rude to county employees.

For four years, Askew "has treated county officials and employees with disrespect, contempt and condescension," says a complaint signed by Julie Lawyer, an assistant attorney general.

Workers "are afraid to be alone in the courthouse after hours or to have one-on-one contact with (Askew)," the complaint says. "County officials and employees have indicated they are intimidated and harassed by his behavior."

Askew declined to respond to telephone and email messages left over several days for comment. His attorney, Bruce Quick of Fargo, declined comment.

State law says Askew is entitled to a hearing, and Dalrymple has appointed William Hodny, a retired state district judge from Mandan, to preside over the case.

Since June 1985, four county sheriffs and a county commissioner have been ousted on the governor's orders. Dalrymple's predecessor, John Hoeven, who is now a U.S. senator, removed Richland County Sheriff Harlan Muehler and Commissioner Dave Paulson in August 2001, and kicked out Rolette County Sheriff Richard Turcotte in an unrelated proceeding in July 2008.

Muehler was booted for keeping a secret office fund to pay for gifts, office parties and candy for parades, and of using degrading language when referring to female county employees. Paulson was accused of sexually harassing female county workers.

Turcotte was removed for failing to keep records or establish procedures for drug testing, employing unqualified deputies and failing to arrest people when he was under a court order to do so.

Former Gov. George Sinner, who served from 1984 until 1992, ousted two sheriffs during his first term — Griggs County Sheriff Vernon Fuglestad for serving invalid eviction papers, and Grand Forks County Sheriff Gordon Taylor, who was arrested three times for drunken driving within five years.

Taylor was convicted twice of driving under the influence in 1981 and 1984. Taylor was removed in April 1986, four months after he was acquitted on his third drunken-driving charge. He was prosecuted by Quick, who was North Dakota's deputy attorney general at the time.

Before Sinner removed Fuglestad in June 1985, no governor was believed to have used the authority since 1927, the governor's legal counsel, Richard Gross, said at the time. That was when Gov. William Langer ousted the Sioux County state's attorney, George H. Purchase, for allegedly being a drunk.

Purchase was seen hauling a sack of beer to a hotel party, staggering and swearing at a public dance and swilling homemade liquor at his home. Other witnesses in the case told of going to the courthouse on county business and finding Purchase in his cups.

Purchase's behavior "brings the law into disrepute, weakens the administration of justice, encourages crime, and shows a total disregard not only of the proprieties, but of duties," says a North Dakota Supreme Court decision describing the case.

But an even more colorful case arose in 1917 when Gov. Lynn J. Frazier, a militant teetotaler who never smoked, drank or cursed, confronted the case of Minot Mayor William Shaw, who was removed for allowing drinking and liquor sales, shielding prostitution operations and ignoring "open and notorious" gambling dens.

Shaw knew "of the violation of the prohibition, gambling and bawdyhouse laws," a Supreme Court recounting of the case says, and connived with others to promote "the perversion and obstruction of justice, and against the due administration of the law."