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Published July 01 2010

Challenger says Stenehjem is inventing laws

BISMARCK – The Democratic candidate for attorney general accused Wayne Stenehjem, the GOP incumbent, on Wednesday of a “make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach” to the law.

Fargo attorney Jean Boechler released her own legal opinion regarding Stenehjem’s handling of a recent election issue.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office misplaced the paperwork of Libertarian Public Service Commission candidate Josh Voytek, resulting in the candidate not being listed on the June primary ballot.

After Jaeger consulted Stenehjem, they decided to include Voytek’s name on the November ballot, even though he did not receive the votes required under the law to advance.

Boechler said Stenehjem hasn’t issued an official legal opinion and has provided “inadequate legal justification for his informal advice.”

Nowhere in Stenehjem’s letter or advice to Jaeger does he reference North Dakota Century Code, she said.

“Indeed, there are many situations which lawyers – and indeed courts – find to be unjust, unfair, and unfortunate – or even politically embarrassing to a candidate for re-election after having already served 18 years in office,” Boechler said in a statement.

“However, the appropriate solution in any of these circumstances certainly is not to invent law on an ad hoc basis – taking the law into your own hands to fit the expediency of the moment – a dangerous proposition indeed – especially for an attorney general to adopt,” she said.

Stenehjem said his office’s analysis was as thorough as necessary and led him to conclude Voytek’s name would be on the ballot if the matter went to court.

“The courts of North Dakota have recognized that candidates have a constitutional right to have their name printed on the ballot if they follow the proper steps, and the citizens of North Dakota have a constitutional right to vote for that candidate if they want to,” he said.

Stenehjem said he’s convinced the decision was a “just, equitable and constitutional remedy for the matter” and said neither of Voytek’s opponents have a problem with his name being on the ballot.

“What’s the harm?” Stenehjem said. “Citizens will decide if they want him or not, and that’s the right thing.”

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.