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Kristen Daum, Published October 17 2009

US attorney appointment still in limbo

While North Dakota’s U.S. attorney seat has been vacant for more than a month, there’s no word about when a replacement will be named.

Former U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley left his position as the state’s chief federal prosecutor on Sept. 11, after submitting his resignation in April.

Lynn C. Jordheim is serving as North Dakota’s acting U.S. attorney, until one is confirmed by the Senate.

But a confirmation is likely still months away – since President Barack Obama has yet to name a nominee for the seat and his staff won’t say when that announcement will come.

“The White House does not comment or speculate on potential nominations before the president announces them,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said in an e-mail this week.

On Sept. 10, North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan said he expected an announcement from Obama “soon.”

This week, officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Fargo and spokesmen for Dorgan and Sen. Kent Conrad said they didn’t have any new information and are waiting for the announcement.

Josh Fershee, an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota’s Law School, said the lack of an announcement likely means there’s been a glitch in the nomination process.

“I think it is reasonable to say that there is either an inability to find somebody that (the senators) can agree on, or they agreed on someone who for whatever reason didn’t pan out,” Fershee said. “I assume there’s probably something of a conflict.”

But North Dakota’s situation is not unusual, Justice Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said.

Among 93 U.S. attorney positions nationwide, Obama has nominated only 30 of them. Of those, 18 have been confirmed by the Senate, Schwartz said.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder explained the delay in an interview with National Public Radio on Thursday – saying he was being cautious with the appointments in order to avoid political controversy like that during the Bush administration.

Holder told NPR that he hoped to finish the process of appointing all the nation’s U.S. attorneys by early 2010.

Elsewhere regionally, Minnesota’s U.S. attorney has already been sworn into office and the Senate confirmed South Dakota’s this week.

As part of appointing a U.S attorney, a state’s senators submit candidates for the president to consider. Candidates are scrutinized for their qualifications – a process that can take several months, Schwartz said.

After the president names a nominee, the Senate decides whether to confirm that candidate – which also can take weeks depending on the Senate calendar.

Until the president names a nominee, the entire process usually takes place behind closed doors, but it can be stalled for several reasons, said Fershee.

“You want to get your ducks in a row before you release those names,” Fershee said of the process. “You don’t like to put forth people who can’t get confirmed.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541