Pembina County state’s attorney resigns under fireStuart Askew, the state’s attorney for Pembina County, N.D., resigned under fire Monday. The governor’s office, through general counsel Jerad Tufte, confirmed it had received Askew’s letter of resignation.
By: By Chris Bieri , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Stuart Askew, the state’s attorney for Pembina County, N.D., resigned under fire Monday.
The governor’s office, through general counsel Jerad Tufte, confirmed it had received Askew’s letter of resignation.
The state Attorney General’s office had asked Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Jan. 9 to remove Askew, alleging misconduct and job deficiencies.
According to the North Dakota Century Code, Askew had the right to a hearing, where he could defend himself and face his critics. That meeting was scheduled for today, but canceled once the AG office’s received notice of Askew’s pending resignation from the position he has held since 2005.
The complaint against Askew contained nine different charges, some that targeted Askew’s personal behavior and others that alleged professional failings.
In his letter, Askew stated, “regardless of whether or not I were to prevail in the removal proceeding, I believe my ability to be an effective state’s attorney to the people of Pembina County has been irrevocably compromised through what I believe is no fault of my own.”
Andy Adamson, chairman of the Pembina County Commission, said the group will decide soon on how to proceed in replacing Askew.
“Tentatively our plans are to meet (Tuesday),” Adamson said. “Undoubtedly we’ll accept his resignation. We have (Walsh County State’s Attorney) Barb Whelan, she’s filling in for us. I think we’ll make her part of our process and try to decide what we need for the county and go from there.”
In his resignation letter, Askew addressed nearly every one of the allegations independently, providing explanations or disputing claims made in the complaint.
His attorney Bruce Quick said cost was the main reason Askew didn’t take his responses to the hearing.
“If you go through a two-day hearing there’s going to be significant expense and if his intention is to resign, it makes no sense to go through with the hearing,” Quick said. “He made the decision he wasn’t going to go forward in the office, but in no way does he agree the grounds were there to remove him.”
Here’s how Askew responded to some of the complaints against him:
* The first two points of the complaint said he failed to attend required county commission meetings and provide necessary legal opinions or legal assistance for county officials and employees.
Askew’s said he preferred to deliver those opinions in writing and conducted that business via email as opposed to in person.
* The third item said Askew “treated county officials and employees with disrespect, contempt and condescension.”
In response, Askew referred to a disagreement with county auditor/treasurer Linda Schlittenhard and cites a number of people who reported positive relationships with him.
According to Askew, Schlittenhard reported the dispute to Pembina County Sheriff’s Department to investigate possible charges. He said it was investigated by the N.D. Bureau of Criminal Investigation and no charges were filed.
* Askew took issue with the claim he wasn’t following up on drug-related cases that originated at the Pembina Port of Entry. He included in his resignation a three-page chart detailing the cases referred to in the complaint.
Eight of 11 cases in question received deferred impositions of sentences and information about the remaining three cases could not be found, he said.
* Askew also responded to an apparent claim by county Commissioner Corene Vaughn to investigators that Askew “walked his dog past her residence” in an apparent attempt to intimidate Vaughn.
Askew, who had been involved in a somewhat-public longstanding dispute with Vaughn, denied the claims of intimidation, but not the accusation of walking his dog.
In closing, Askew said “I do not believe that any of my actions as state’s attorney were so egregious to have deserved the level of criticism I received from fellow officials also elected to serve the people of Pembina County. Moreover, I do not believe that my actions as state’s sttorney rose to a level requiring the extreme measure of being removed by the governor.”
Removal is rare
Removal of a public official by the governor is rare.
There have been a few similar cases in Grand Forks County history.
Gov. George Sinner removed Sheriff Gordon Taylor in April 1986. He had been arrested three times in the course of five years for drunk driving.
Quick, as deputy attorney general, prosecuted the case.
In 1991, County Auditor Jeanne Stinnett resigned after being accused of lying about the county’s books. Stinnett, who was represented by Quick, denied the charges against her.
Adamson said he believes Askew’s resignation will improve county operations.
“This has been something that has not only taken a lot of the commission’s time, it’s consumed a lot of time of county employees and law enforcement,” he said. “It’s good to have it behind us and we can move forward.”
There were more than 3,000 pages of discovery documents received by Askew’s legal team.
Adamson said that mass of charges proved the petition to remove Askew was justified.
“We filed the charges and brought the petitions to the governor,” he said. “They sent out an investigator from the Attorney General’s office. It all pretty well speaks for itself.”
Chris Bieri is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.