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Dave Roepke, Published February 05 2010

County prosecutor seeks two jobs in election

The chief prosecutor in Valley City, N.D., plans to run for re-election as state’s attorney at the same time as he runs for a judgeship seated in the county.

Barnes County State’s Attorney Brad Cruff said he plans to throw hats in the ring for both races so that if he loses in the judge election, he can still be the state’s attorney.

“I still want to have a job,” said Cruff, who said he will take the judgeship if he wins both elections.

Running for both positions is a “strange” move, said the incumbent, Judge John T. Paulson, who’s the presiding judge in the 11-county Southeast Judicial District.

“I think that’s strange. Let’s put it that way,” Paulson said.

Paulson was also Barnes County state’s attorney at one point, holding the post for 10 years before he ran for the Southeast District’s No. 2 judgeship in 1980. He won and was seated at the start of 1981.

Paulson said that while the state’s attorney job wasn’t up for election when he ran for the judgeship, he would not have been a dual candidate even if it had been possible.

“You see it once in a while,” Paulson said. “It’s just whether the public will swallow it or not.”

Cruff acknowledged that being on the ballot twice in Barnes County may confuse some voters, who may think they can only vote for him once.

“I assume it will raise some questions,” he said.

Cruff said he decided not to run for re-election as the Griggs County state’s attorney – a post he also holds – due to concerns that voters there might not back him in the judge’s race because they wouldn’t want to lose him as a county prosecutor.

No other potential candidates have taken out paperwork to run for state’s attorney in Barnes County, according to the county auditor’s office.

Lee Ann Oliver, elections specialist with the secretary of state’s office, said there doesn’t appear to be anything in state law that outlaws lawyers running for both a state’s attorney position and a judgeship.

“I can tell you it’s not very common,” Oliver said.

Running for two city offices at once is barred under state law, she said.

If Cruff did win election to both posts and stepped down as state’s attorney, state law dictates that the County Commission would appoint a successor, Oliver said.

Cruff declined to say if he had any criticism about Paulson’s, saying ethical rules prevent him from talking about that.

The pair did spar at times during the two 2007 murder trials for Moe Gibbs. The first ended in a hung jury and the second in a conviction and a life term in prison. For instance, the judge ruled Cruff couldn’t present evidence regarding prior rape charges Gibbs faced, preventing prosecutors from presenting a sex-related motive theory.

Cruff said he wants to try some alternative judicial approaches, such as a drug diversion program and a “pot tax” that would allow convicted users to pay a fee to avoid drug testing that probation often requires.

Paulson said he favors drug diversion programs as long as they work for the Southeast District’s mostly rural population, but he’s not sold on the “pot tax.” He said it wouldn’t be fair to the defendants unable to pay the fee and that testing serves as retribution of a sort for drug offenders.

Paulson said he’s most proud of the district’s focus on retaining court services in all the district’s county seats.

Candidates are required to file for election by April 9. A June primary in both races will reduce the field to two candidates for the November election.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535