New U.S. attorney switches sidesFARGO — Timothy Purdon is used to being the leader of the pack. He was always the first player out of the locker room for his high school basketball team. He was at the top of his law school class. He even praises his hunting dog for never giving up.
By: By Dave Kolpack, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Timothy Purdon is used to being the leader of the pack. He was always the first player out of the locker room for his high school basketball team. He was at the top of his law school class. He even praises his hunting dog for never giving up.
Now the former defense attorney is relishing his dream job as the U.S. attorney for North Dakota.
“I have the best client a lawyer could ever have: the United States of America,” Purdon says.
Purdon, 41, a native of Oakes, N.D., said he’s been realistically thinking about the job for about a decade. The hard part began after he became a legitimate candidate for the state’s top federal prosecutor.
Democrats mentioned Purdon’s name shortly after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Purdon wasn’t nominated until last February and wasn’t confirmed until last month. In the meantime, some Republicans and at least one prominent state Democrat criticized the selection of a “a political activist and party fundraiser,” citing Purdon’s position as a Democratic national committeeman.
Purdon said he was stung by the criticism.
“It bothers you to see your wife read that because it bothers her,” he said. “But you have to have a thick skin and it helps you develop it. I’m stronger for the process.”
Ladd Erickson, the McLean County state’s attorney who has faced off against Purdon in court, said he didn’t understand the complaints.
“I’m not a Democrat. I don’t know the angle,” Erickson said. “I saw a couple of blurbs like that and I think that it was all kind of manufactured, really. In my world it doesn’t come up. The politics don’t play out in court.”
Purdon was admitted to practice law in North Dakota in 1995. He specialized in criminal defense, personal injury and consumer fraud while working for the Vogel Law Firm in Bismarck.
Purdon said there’s nothing tricky about switching sides.
“When I was a defense lawyer I had a client and my duty was to zealously advocate for my client. I now have a new client, the United States of America, and I will zealously advocate for that client,” he said.
Purdon handled a variety of well-publicized cases with Vogel. He represented a woman who sued over traffic fines; a man accused of impersonating a lawyer; a woman blamed for killing her newborn baby; two farmers who wanted to grow industrial hemp; and a state fraud investigator charged with conspiracy to disclose confidential information.
“The more complex cases go to the more skillful lawyers,” said Mark Friese, one of Purdon’s partners at Vogel. “The fact that Tim had a lot of tough cases is a testament to his ability.”
Purdon said his priority as U.S. attorney is national security and helping law enforcement with the hundreds of miles of international border between North Dakota and Canada. He describes public safety on American Indian reservations and combatting meth-amphetamine distribution as “priorities 1A and 1B.”
He said he wanted the job because of his interest in Indian issues.
“I don’t believe that a group of people can overcome the long-term effects of poverty and isolation until they first feel safe in their homes and their neighborhoods,” he said. “I can’t create 75 jobs on the reservation, but I have the resources in this office to help try and address the problems of safety in Indian country.”
Purdon said he would like to see the FBI double the number of agents working on Indian cases, but knows it’s not realistic because of the amount of money dedicated toward national security.
“If you haven’t visited a reservation, you might not understand it,” he said. “No human being with a heart that understands the problem could possibly be apathetic about it.”
Wayne Stenehjem, attorney general for North Dakota, said Purdon has suggested the two of them schedule meetings with tribal leaders to talk about joint efforts in law enforcement. The two prosecutors also have discussed ways to work together on Internet crimes against children, Stenehjem said.
“He’s already called me several times about our opportunities to cooperate on those kinds of things,” Stenehjem said.
Erickson said Purdon’s greatest strength as a trial lawyer is communication. Jurors are quick to warm up to him and like him, Erickson said.
But Purdon said it could be a while before he tries cases for the government.
“This is a big job and I need to spend the first part of this job being the best manager that I can for the outstanding lawyers who work here. I owe that to them,” he said. “Someday I’ll get back in the courtroom. I can’t get away from it. That’s what I love.”
Purdon said his interests away from the courtroom include Sunday dinners with his family, reading, attending college hockey games and grouse hunting expeditions in northwest North Dakota. A photo of his hunting dog, Louis, is displayed prominently among the family pictures in his Fargo office.
That’s pronounced Lou-EE, by the way.
“He may not be the most talented, but he has heart to go all day long,” a beaming Purdon said of the 8-year-old brittany spaniel.
Purdon was much the same way on the basketball court, his high school coach said. He worked hard, cared about his teammates, and always led the team out of the locker room before games, said Dave Nelson, Purdon’s coach and teacher in Ashby, Minn., in the mid 1980s.
“He has always been motivated and driven,” Nelson said. “I’m not surprised that he has reached the position of United States attorney.”