Burgum, Stenehjem Squabble Over Lawyers in District 8 Kerfuffle

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem

MINOT, N.D. — There is a legal food fight looming over the election results in North Dakota’s District 8 House race.

Dave Andahl, one of the Republican candidates in that district, died in early October from issues related to COVID-19. Gov. Doug Burgum has appointed a replacement, citing constitutional authority. Legislative leaders reject that appointment, preferring instead that the local district party appoint, an outcome endorsed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in a legal opinion. The Democratic-NPL, meanwhile, wants the votes for Andahl invalidated, and their candidate declared the winner.

I summed up the intricacies of these various arguments last week, but before we get to the squabbling over who will fill District 8’s second House seat (Andahl’s running mate, Dave Nehring, was the top vote-getter in the district and will be seated without issue), it appears as though Burgum and Stenehjem will squabble over lawyers.

Burgum has requested that Stenehjem appoint some “special assistant attorneys general” to represent him in this matter. In most matters, the lawyers in the Attorney General’s office are the lawyers for the state. When there is a legal dispute within the state government itself, the Attorney General’s office typically chooses one side to represent while hiring outside counsel to represent the other side.

In a Nov. 9 letter to Burgum, responding to his request, Stenehjem first claims that Burgum hasn’t told him which matter the appointed attorneys would be representing him in. “In order to make an appointment, I need to be informed specifically what ‘action or proceeding’ is pending or contemplated and which state officers are involved so I will be able to make the determination of which party to represent,” Stenehjem wrote.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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