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Western ND county sheriff's job remains under review

Suspended McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger, left. Forum News Service file photo

WATFORD CITY, N.D.—The attorney for McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger, who faces potential removal from office over charges made with a county credit card and other alleged misconduct, indicated Wednesday that letters sent to Gov. Doug Burgum from the former special prosecutor in the case have violated his client's due process rights.

"(The proceedings) are tainted to the point I'm not so sure we can go forward," said Mike Geiermann, asking for dismissal of the case.

The new special prosecutor, Michael Mahoney, countered that he believed the process to still be intact and proceedings against the sheriff should continue.

Geiermann cited two letters sent by prosecutor Bill O'Driscoll to the governor, an action which he compared to an attorney contacting a judge in a civil or criminal case, since the governor acts as the ultimate judge in removal of elected officials.

The first letter, dated March 20, told the governor that O'Driscoll was inclined to agree with the defendant's motion to dismiss the case based upon similar circumstances and definitions used in the dismissal of previous removal proceedings of then Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy in 2012.

"Should you disagree with this decision," he told the governor. "And decide to seek a different opinion or appoint a different prosecutor, please advise."

The second letter, dated April 6, asked that he be removed from the case because it was his belief Schwartzenberger's "removal is not appropriate."

Geiermann was unable to obtain any other communications from the governor's office via subpoena.

The governor's office did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.

Mahoney indicated he plans to offer an amendment to the complaint against the sheriff, removing allegations surrounding the purchase of candy with the county credit card and open records violations. On the other hand, he also could request to make some additions. He plans to make submit these amendments by early next week.

The special commissioner in the case, Karen Klein, charged with making recommendations to the governor, took Geiermann's arguments under advisement but decided to put off any action until Mahoney filed his proposed amendments.

Geiermann indicated he plans a deposition with O'Driscoll in the coming weeks in hopes of determining what other communications may have taken place with the governor's office.