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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, Published February 14 2012

Pembina prosecutor disputes allegations but quits

BISMARCK – The Pembina County prosecutor resigned Tuesday before the start of a two-day hearing on allegations he neglected his job, saying the allegations against him were petty or false but he felt his ability to do the job had been “irrevocably compromised.”

Stuart Askew, who had been prosecutor since 2005, was accused of overlooking prosecutions, ignoring some requests for legal help and treating county employees with contempt. But Askew said many complaints were petty, including one from county commissioner who said that Askew sometimes walked his dog past her home.

“I believe my ability to be an effective state’s attorney ... has been irrevocably compromised, through what I believe is no fault of my own,” Askew said in a statement.

Andy Adamson, chairman of the Pembina County Commission, said the state’s attorney from neighboring Walsh County is serving as the interim county legal adviser in Askew’s absence and the commission will meet Tuesday to discuss options for appointing a successor. Askew’s term does not end until 2014.

“I’m trying to be kind of low-keyed on this,” Adamson said of Askew’s resignation. “We’re not going to dwell on the fact that he’s not admitting wrong to any of these things. He resigned, that’s where we are now, and we’re going to move forward.”

North Dakota law gives the governor power to remove a number of local officials – including sheriffs, police chiefs, county and city commissioners, school board members and township officers – for neglecting the job, misconduct, gross incompetency and alcoholism.

A group of county residents petitioned Gov. Jack Dalrymple last summer to remove Askew, claiming he was not doing his job as county prosecutor.

A state Bureau of Criminal Investigation probe followed, and Julie Lawyer, an assistant attorney general, signed a complaint against Askew last month. Dalrymple appointed William Hodny, a retired district judge, to hold a hearing in the case and compile a report for his review.

Askew said in a filing Monday that many of the allegations against him were based on “hearsay and rumors,” and others were unsubstantiated. He said a number of county employees wrote letters supporting him.

He said one complaint was based an argument he had with Linda Schlittenhard, the county’s auditor and treasurer, about whether the Pembina County Commission had violated the state’s open meetings laws. Schlittenhard claimed Askew yelled at her loudly enough to be heard all over the courthouse, but other employees did not corroborate that account and no charges were ever filed, he said.

One county commissioner, Corene Vaughn, told an investigator Askew walked his dog past her Cavalier home “and appeared to take his time doing so.” Askew said he had walked his dog past Vaughn’s house but the “implication of her statement is silly.”

“There is no question that I do not agree with or get along with Ms. Vaughn,” Askew wrote. “However, at no time have I intimidated or harassed her.”

Askew said he had not attended some county commission meetings because he preferred getting commissioners’ questions by email, rather than in person.

“I find that email allows me the opportunity to know, in advance, the questions so that I may research and provide a reasoned response,” he wrote.

Adamson said Askew’s statement downplayed reality. He noted Askew’s resignation letter referred to 3,000 pages of documentation in his case.

“With that much evidence and that much discovery,” Adamson said, “it certainly wasn’t just a little petty vendetta between a couple of commissioners and him.”