A judge has dismissed a Dunn County petition to call a grand jury to investigate Gov. Jack Dalrymple over felony bribery allegations.
Southwest Judicial District Judge William Herauf ruled Wednesday that at least seven signatures are not from qualified Dunn County voters, and therefore the petition did not have enough signatures to meet the requirements of a citizen-initiated grand jury process.
Herauf also ruled that Dunn County was not the appropriate jurisdiction to bring the charges. The petition alleges that oil industry campaign contributions accepted by Dalrymple’s campaign could be considered bribery. Dalrymple serves as chairman of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which was considering a controversial “mega-unit” for drilling oil in Dunn County about the same time he received some of the contributions.
Herauf said Burleigh County would be the appropriate venue because that is where the governor’s office is, where the Industrial Commission meets and there is no indication that Dalrymple received campaign contributions in Dunn County.
In his ruling, Herauf notes that North Dakota is one of a handful of states that allows citizen-directed grand juries, but it has seldom been used.
“Thus, as I went through the statute and the case law, I kept coming up with more questions than I was able to find answers,” Herauf said.
Grand Forks attorney David Thompson, who drafted the petition but was not involved with collecting signatures, said he was disappointed with the ruling and believes he has grounds for an appeal.
The petition had 173 signatures and needed at least 167 to meet the requirement of 10 percent of the voters who participated in the last general election.
Herauf identifies seven petitioners who indicated that their addresses are in Bismarck, Fargo, Dickinson, Laverne or New Town. Absent those seven signatures, the total falls to 166.
Herauf also questions 55 signatures that list post office boxes, which is a mailing address not a residential address. In addition, Herauf notes that 16 signatures were absent addresses and also subject to exclusion.
Thompson said he disagrees with the judge’s assessment of some of the signatures.
“Just because someone doesn’t put an address down doesn’t mean they can be excluded,” Thompson said. “I don’t think the judge or anybody else could conclusively determine just from a piece of paper whether somebody could have voted in Dunn County on election day.”
Herauf issued his ruling Wednesday on the petition that was submitted Nov. 2, days before Dalrymple was up for re-election. Paul Sorum, who challenged Dalrymple as an independent candidate in the election, asked Thompson to draft the petition.
Dalrymple’s campaign has said the allegations are baseless and the effort was politically motivated.
No hearings were held on the petition.
“I was disappointed that Judge Herauf did not conduct a hearing at which both the Dunn County state’s attorney and I would have been permitted to discuss the petition with the judge and address any apparent difficulties with any of the signatures on the petition,” Thompson said.
Herauf said the petitioners can re-file the petition with the proper number of signatures, but that doesn’t resolve the jurisdiction issue.
Thompson said he disagrees with Herauf’s ruling that Dunn County is not an appropriate venue. Thompson said the unit is in Dunn County, and that’s where the consequences of the actions occurred.
Thompson said he will evaluate what his next step is. He said his options are to examine the signatures and determine if the count is actually 167 or higher; appeal to the state Supreme Court; or pursue a petition effort in Burleigh County.
“This does not substantively exonerate Gov. Dalrymple from bribery in any way, shape or form,” Thompson said.
Judge Herauf was appointed by former Gov. John Hoeven in 2006 and elected in 2008. Dalrymple was Hoeven’s lieutenant governor.