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Published February 14, 2012, 05:10 PM

Pembina Co. Prosecutor Disputes Allegations But Quits

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(AP) — Pembina County prosecutor Stuart Askew, whose resignation was accepted Tuesday, argued a move to kick him out of office was built on petty or unproven grievances, including a complaint that Askew sometimes walked his dog past a county commissioner's home.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

(AP) — Pembina County prosecutor Stuart Askew, whose resignation was accepted Tuesday, argued a move to kick him out of office was built on petty or unproven grievances, including a complaint that Askew sometimes walked his dog past a county commissioner's home.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Pembina County Commission said the panel would rely on a neighboring state's attorney for legal advice while it looked for someone to appoint as Askew's successor. His term does not end until 2014.

"We are trying to start to move on and get things back to normal," said the commission's chairman, Andy Adamson. The commission held a special meeting Tuesday to accept Askew's resignation, which he submitted late Monday.

"This has consumed a lot of time, with the commissioners and throughout the whole courthouse," Adamson said. "It's been something that's been on our mind ... For a time we didn't have any representation, really, because his office wasn't cooperating with us."

Askew, who has been Pembina County's chief prosecutor since 2005, resigned before Tuesday's scheduled start of a two-day hearing into allegations that he neglected his job, overlooked prosecutions, ignored some requests for legal help and treated county employees with contempt.

"I believe my ability to be an effective state's attorney ... has been irrevocably compromised, through what I believe is no fault of my own," Askew said in his statement.

North Dakota law gives the governor power to remove a number of local officials — including sheriffs, police chiefs, county and city commissioners, school board members and township officers — for neglecting the job, misconduct, gross incompetency and alcoholism.

A group of county residents petitioned Gov. Jack Dalrymple last summer to remove Askew, claiming he was not doing his job as county prosecutor.

A state Bureau of Criminal Investigation probe followed, and Julie Lawyer, an assistant attorney general, signed a complaint against Askew last month. Dalrymple appointed William Hodny, a retired district judge, to hold a hearing in the case and compile a report for his review.

Askew said in a filing Monday that many of the allegations against him were based on "hearsay and rumors," and others were unsubstantiated. He said a number of county employees wrote letters supporting him

He said one complaint was based an argument he had with Linda Schlittenhard, the county's auditor and treasurer, about whether the Pembina County Commission had violated the state's open meetings laws. Schlittenhard claimed Askew yelled at her loudly enough to be heard all over the courthouse, but other employees did not corroborate that account and no charges were ever filed, he said.

One county commissioner, Corene Vaughn, told an investigator Askew walked his dog past her Cavalier home "and appeared to take his time doing so." Askew said he had walked his dog past Vaughn's house but the "implication of her statement is silly."

"There is no question that I do not agree with or get along with Ms. Vaughn," Askew wrote. "However, at no time have I intimidated or harassed her."

Askew said he had not attended some county commission meetings because he preferred getting commissioners' questions by email, rather than in person.

"I find that email allows me the opportunity to know, in advance, the questions so that I may research and provide a reasoned response," he wrote.

Adamson said the commission would rely on Barbara Whelan, the state's attorney in neighboring Walsh County, to fill in while the Pembina County Commission searches for Askew's successor.

He said Askew's statement downplayed reality but added that he did not want to argue the point at length. He noted that Askew's resignation letter referred to 3,000 pages of documentation in his case.

"With that much evidence and that much discovery," Adamson said, "it certainly wasn't just a little petty vendetta between a couple of commissioners and him."

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