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City hires 2nd attorney for annexation suit

An attorney was hired to help the city's counsel defend Dickinson in a lawsuit, which officials say is common practice.

The suit is regarding approval of annexing 325 acres on the north side of the city in October.

More than a dozen businesses and landowners in the annexed area filed suit against the city Jan. 5, according to a previous Press article. They are requesting temporary injunctive relief until a judge can determine whether or not the annexation process was lawful, the article said.

"The city has an insurance carrier," said Matthew Kolling, city attorney. "It's through the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund and the insurance reserve fund has retained counsel to represent its interests in the annexation lawsuit. We anticipate he and I will be working together to represent the city on the lawsuit."

Steve Spilde, CEO of the North Dakota Insurance Fund, confirmed Randall Bakke was hired on Jan. 31 to defend the city.

"Our standard procedure is to do just that, retain an outside attorney to represent the city," Spilde said. "It was no reflection on the city attorney in any way."

NDIRF will pay for Bakke's counsel, he added.

"My understanding is he has a long-standing relationship with the insurance reserve fund and represents the fund on a number of different matters," Kolling said.

NDIRF members are political subdivisions, such as cities, counties and school districts, Spilde said.

"We're a nonprofit corporation and our members don't have to belong and they're not automatically in," Spilde said.

"They have to choose to participate, but almost all political subdivisions are (members)."

NDIRF has also engaged the help of an outside attorney for lawsuits against Stark County.

Most recently, Mitchell Armstrong was hired to represent the county in a suit filed by St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck regarding a fugitive's medical bill.

"This is how we've done it for years, where we appoint an attorney who is hired by the insurance," Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning said. "It doesn't give them any authority to do anything else for us."

The practice is typical in North Dakota, he added.

"In most counties, the state's attorney's office isn't large enough to have a full-time civil council," Henning said. "From an economic standpoint, we don't have enough civil lawsuits to justify fulltime civil (staff) in an office the size of our office."

City officials and Bakke declined comment on the matter.

"At this point, anything relating to the annexation is attorney-client privilege, so that is not open to public record," said Bill Fahlsing, city public information officer.

However, Kolling said the city is maintaining its stance that the annexation process was done correctly.