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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer, Published September 16 2010

Blunt won’t receive new trial

BISMARCK – A prosecutor who won a felony conviction against former North Dakota workers’ compensation director Sandy Blunt did not withhold information from Blunt’s lawyer that might have helped his defense, a judge ruled on Wednesday.

Cynthia Feland, an assistant Burleigh County state’s attorney, had asked South Central District Judge Bruce Romanick to decide whether she violated any rules about supplying potentially helpful information to Blunt’s attorney, Mike Hoffman, before Blunt’s trial in December 2008.

Hoffman filed a separate motion alleging that Feland had not turned over materials he requested to help prepare Blunt’s defense, including state Bureau of Criminal Investigation interviews with a state auditor and four Workforce Safety and Insurance executives. Because of that, Blunt’s conviction should be thrown out, or he should get another trial, Hoffman argued.

In a ruling late Wednesday, Romanick decided that Feland did not break any rules on providing materials that Hoffman requested. The judge also decided that Feland did not violate any of the rules that govern law-yers’ conduct, a finding that is important because Feland is facing a disciplinary complaint filed by a Blunt supporter. Feland is running in November for a South Central district judgeship.

Hoffman did not respond Wednesday to phone calls and e-mails requesting comment. Feland did not reply to e-mails asking for comment.

Blunt was the chief executive officer at Workforce Safety and Insurance for almost four years before he was forced out of his job in December 2007. He was accused of misspending about $26,000 on benefits for a fired agency executive, Dave Spencer, and on trinkets, gift cards, movie tickets, refreshments and other items for agency employees.

Jurors convicted Blunt of a single felony count of misappropriation of entrusted property. In February 2009, Romanick deferred Blunt’s sentence for two years, fined him $2,000 and ordered him to perform 1,000 hours of community service. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed Blunt’s conviction last July.

A deferred sentence gives criminal defendants the chance to get a conviction erased from their records if they do not break any laws while the sentence is pending. Romanick had stopped Blunt’s sentence from taking effect during his appeals, but the judge ended the delay Wednesday, said his deferred sentence would take effect, and ordered Blunt to report to the state parole and probation office.

In court filings, Feland said the interviews with the Workforce Safety and Insurance executives and a senior state auditor, Jason Wahl, were not provided to Blunt’s attorney because she mistakenly believed the material had already been turned over. In any case, the interviews did not provide any new or relevant information, Feland argued.

Hoffman’s argument has focused on a memo, written by Wahl to Burleigh County prosecutors, and a statement the auditor gave to a Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent that he considered the benefits paid to Spencer a “non-issue” because they were allowed by Spencer’s employment terms.

Wahl testified for the prosecution during Blunt’s trial, and Hoffman has said he could have used the information to undermine Wahl’s credibility. Feland said her office had no record of turning over Wahl’s memo to Hoffman but said she could prove that other materials with the same information were supplied.

Romanick, in his ruling Wednesday, said the prosecution gave Hoffman all the information he needed to question Wahl. Romanick, a former Burleigh County prosecutor, said the state’s attorney’s office also allows defense lawyers to inspect the prosecution’s case file as they please.

“Quite frankly, in this case, if the defense had elected to avail themselves of the state’s open file policy, the defense would have discovered the missing (Wahl) memo or discovered they had previously observed the memo,” Romanick wrote. “This court is not swayed by defense’s position they simply can sit in a closet with the documents they have received from the state and cry foul when a given document is not in defendant’s file.”

Hoffman “had the chance and the information to cross-examine Mr. Wahl on this issue and did not. A trial strategy is selected and lived with,” the judge wrote.

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