ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

THEIR OPINION: Obama should pick N.D.'s U.S. attorney

BISMARCK -- The nation and its new president have gone well beyond transition and honeymoon. More than a year has passed since Barack Obama was elected. And North Dakota still does not have its new U.S. attorney. The state deserves better. Drew W...

BISMARCK -- The nation and its new president have gone well beyond transition and honeymoon.

More than a year has passed since Barack Obama was elected. And North Dakota still does not have its new U.S. attorney. The state deserves better.

Drew Wrigley, appointed by President George Bush, was the U.S. attorney for North Dakota until leaving that post in September.

It has become form for the U.S. attorneys to tender their resignations when there's a change of party in the White House. They serve at the "discretion" of the president.

There are only 95 U.S. attorneys, so finding suitable candidates for the job isn't a problem -- at least not statistically.

ADVERTISEMENT

The issue of delay comes in the vetting process, in the decision making that goes on in the White House.

The state's two senators -- traditionally consulted on the appointment -- have done their part. The problem is presidential.

The Obama White House also has been slow to nominate federal judges.

Most North Dakotans have little occasion to come across the U.S. attorney.

He or she is about federal crime -- recently about conspiracy to distribute illegal drugs from Mexico through a network of criminals stretching north into Fargo, and about violent crimes on Indian reservations.

The U.S. attorney in North Dakota has a main office in Fargo, with 10 assistant U.S. attorneys and 23 support staff. There's a branch office in Bismarck with six assistant U.S. attorneys and eight support staff.

Although the U.S. attorney has wide discretion, there are three statutory responsibilities: prosecution of criminal cases under federal statutes, prosecution and defense of civil cases in which the federal government is a party and collection of debts owned the federal government.

It's important work.

ADVERTISEMENT

One of the highest profile cases handled by the U.S. attorney's office in North Dakota on Wrigley's watch was the 2006 conviction of Alfonso Rodriquez for the abduction and murder of Dru Sjoudin.

In absence of an Obama appointment, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn Jordheim is running the North Dakota office.

There's no reason to believe Jordheim is anything but competent. But interim appointments tend to lack the individual vision backed by institutional authority to get full measure out of the office.

Wrigley told the Bismarck Tribune in September that the White House is considering the following attorneys as replacements for him:

Tim Purdon, an attorney at Bismarck's Vogel Law Firm; Jasper Schneider, a state representative and Fargo attorney; Bill Brudvik, a Mayville attorney; Janice Morley, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Fargo, and Rebecca Thiem, an attorney with Zuger Kirmis & Smith in Bismarck.

Since then, Schneider has taken a political appointment as state director for the U.S. Agriculture Department's Rural Development agency.

Because of the nature of the federal responsibilities of the U.S. attorney, despite North Dakota being a low-crime state, there's work that needs attention by a fully vested U.S. attorney.

The president and the Justice Department should move expeditiously to fill the office of U.S. attorney for North Dakota.

What To Read Next