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'From traffic tickets to murder': Stark County state’s attorney office is constantly working on many kinds of cases

The day in the life of a state's attorney can sometimes start around 7:30 a.m. and end with their boss kicking them out around 5 p.m. Sometimes they show up at the office in the early mornings and stay later into the evening to prepare for a tria...

Stark County assistant state's attorneys James Hope, Amanda Engelstad, Brittney Bornemann and state's attorney Tom Henning are constantly working on many kinds of cases. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)
Stark County assistant state's attorneys James Hope, Amanda Engelstad, Brittney Bornemann and state's attorney Tom Henning are constantly working on many kinds of cases. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

The day in the life of a state's attorney can sometimes start around 7:30 a.m. and end with their boss kicking them out around 5 p.m.

Sometimes they show up at the office in the early mornings and stay later into the evening to prepare for a trial. Very occasionally they bring work home, just to get themselves familiar with a case. Even though their job can be difficult, stressful and time-consuming, for the most part they enjoy it. They want to bring justice to the people.

Though many of their days are filled with criminal court cases, Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning and his three assistant state's attorneys, James Hope, Brittney Bornemann and Amanda Engelstad do much more than prosecute criminals.

"Our job is to do our best to protect the community and get justice for people who deserve it," Bornemann said.

They cover a broad range of subjects including: advising the Stark County Commission, juvenile court, civil cases, mental health commitments, speaking with crime victims and witnesses, among many other tasks.

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"We're doing everything from traffic tickets to murder," Henning said.

The state's attorneys are in constant contact with public defenders, defense attorneys, victims, law enforcement and many others involved with their cases.

"If we're not in court, we're probably doing what we need to do in terms of communicating," Bornemann said. "Whether that be drafting letters, drafting offers, on the telephone."

When preparing for trial, the attorneys work through their entire case file and review it carefully in order to make sure they know the ins and outs of the case and can talk about them in a conversational way. They also review statutes so they "don't trip up on point of law," Henning said.

"They basically need to put in quite a significant amount of time to make sure that somebody says, 'Hey you're up on this case' and you're not familiar with your case," he said.

They are constantly helping each other with cases as well, in order to come up with the best possible argument in the courtroom or other setting.

"We are super lucky, too, in that we have great support staff," Bornemann said. "I really appreciate our law enforcement as well and social services. We work with them a lot, and it's helpful to have quality people so you can workshop things with."

Henning said it is pretty uncommon for someone to get a case and not talk with anyone about it until after disposition.

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"I would say on an interoffice basis we consult a lot," he said.

Being a state's attorney

Bornemann was previously a civil lawyer in Bismarck for five years before joining the Stark County State's Attorney office in 2015. She said one of the biggest differences between the private sector and her job now is public service.

"We still deal individually with people but instead of having private clients, my client is essentially the community of Dickinson, and that's different," she said.

The journey to become a state's attorney varies for everyone. Engelstad said she had always had an interest in the criminal arena. Ever since she was young she had always had an interest in the law.

"I was very fortunate that I am here because I only really had an interest in was criminal law," she said. "I was fortunate to get the job that I did because I do get to work in the criminal area, which is really what I focused on and what my interest was."

Henning's position does not really vary from that of his assistants. The state's attorney position is an elected spot, so he said he will handle some of the more political cases. He also tries to handle most of the county commission work, but he said the rest of the staff can also handle those types of civil cases too.

"As assistant state's attorneys, they're authorized to do anything that's necessary or by law assigned to this office," he said. "The biggest significance between the elected and the deputies is that the elected can call the shots, but from a practical standpoint the elected only makes the calls that appear to be really politically charged. ... If you run for election and you win that means you're qualified to take the blame."

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Engelstad and Bornemann said it can be hard at times to remove emotions from a case.

"Some of those cases take a lot of time, and you invest a lot of time not just in the paperwork, but the victim, the witnesses," Engelstad said. "... I have had a few where they've been kind of emotionally invested and then kind of tough to remove myself from them."

However, Henning noted that people can get emotionally-invested in things beyond casework. His team said there aren't enough resources for people who are drug addicts-sending a drug addict to prison is not the same as sending a drug dealer to prison. Bornemann said they would prefer to be able to put an addict to a treatment facility, rather than send them to prison because goal for an addict is rehabilitation.

"I think the heroine and fentanyl wave that we've seen hit, not just this county, but the state really hard and really fast," Engelstad said. "I think we're all kind of scrambling to figure out how to deal with it. There's just not enough treatment centers, there's just not enough rehabilitation."

Bornemann said the job is rewarding in terms of being able to "seek justice" and hopefully receive it. They also get to help victims and families along with interacting with people on a daily basis.

"I think for the most part I don't think many people know what the state's attorney office does," Bornemann said. "I think generally until or unless you need the assistance of law enforcement or the assistance of the state's attorney I don't think you know or care what we do and that's OK."

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Related Topics: STARK COUNTY
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