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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published June 04 2013

Man hauled into ND court to pay 21-year-old bill

GRAND FORKS - His past rose up and slapped shackles on a Minnesota man over a 21-year-old small-change conviction for which he was brought into a Grand Forks courtroom Monday to face again.

Kenneth John Knutson, 44, was convicted of a misdemeanor forgery charge in state district court in Grand Forks in 1992. Somehow an old warrant surfaced and a court “review” was ordered over whether he ever served his way-back sentence.

Knutson, who has been living recently in Tenstrike, Minn., northeast of Bemidji, had no defense attorney Monday.

But he did bring a letter of testimony from farming brothers near Hillsboro, N.D., who vouched for him as an employee, saying Knutson never missed a day and one of their customers even tipped him $100 last fall for “the great work and attention to detail while hauling his corn.”

The old charge meant state District Judge Sonja Clapp had to recuse herself from deciding on it, because she had been the prosecutor on the case back then.

David Jones, the current assistant state’s attorney on the case, said he had nothing to prosecute.

“The sentence was served,” Jones told Clapp. “There’s not even a case to dismiss.”

The minor charge had been changed to a civil judgment years ago and Knutson still owed $325 in restitution, Jones said. But there was nothing to hold him on over it, Jones said.

Clapp asked no one in particular: “How did a ’92 case even get on our system?”

No one had a particularly good answer.

Since then, the state’s court records have shed all paper files and gone all-electronic.

However it happened, the old warrant still floating around on Knutson from the 1992 deal got him arrested May 24 in the middle of spring planting on the Hillsboro farm.

His best guess, Jones said, was that “it was one of those files that got washed out in the flood,” when the court house took on water after the historic 1997 flood.

Clapp arranged to have a colleague, Judge Lawrence Jahnke, quickly review the old non-file and returned a few minutes later to the bench to tell Knutson: “You are done.”

But Knutson still wasn’t free to shed his orange suit: He’s had a few other similar bad check and forgery convictions in North Dakota and Minnesota, including a felony, and officials in his home Beltrami County want him for what they say was inadequate service of a sentence imposed there last year on a misdemeanor theft conviction.

He eagerly waived his right Monday to an extradition hearing and Clapp signed off so Minnesota officials could pick him up at the Grand Forks County jail, where he’s spent the past week.

Knutson said he plans to quickly pay the 21-year-old bill for $325.