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Commentary: Draft legislation would prohibit AG’s office from providing legal counsel for boards the AG sits on

Josh Swanson, an attorney representing the Wilkinson family, presents his arguements to the justices of the North Dakota Supreme Court in the Wilkinson v. Board of University and School Lands case on Monday at the state Captiol in Bismarck. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

The State of North Dakota asks a lot from its statewide elected officials. In addition to the duties of their specific elected office, these folks are also asked to sit on a myriad of governing boards.

For instance, the powerful Industrial Commission which overseas oil and gas development in the state (among other things) has the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Agriculture Commissioner as its membership.

Another example is the Board of University and School Lands, which manages state-owned lands for the benefit of our educational institutions. It features the Governor, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the State Treasurer, and the Superintendent of Schools.

Providing legal counsel to these various boards is the Office of the Attorney General. But is there a conflict of interest when the AG’s office is providing legal counsel for a board the AG is also a member of?

One state lawmaker seems to think so. Rep. Roscoe Streyle (R-Minot) has a bill draft for the next legislative session which, in addition to changing the makeup of the Land Board, would also prohibit the AG’s office from providing legal advice to any board the AG also sits on.

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