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August 15: State’s Attorney Removal

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Few county officials in North Dakota have been removed from office, but one of the most dramatic cases reached the state Supreme Court. Sioux County State’s Attorney George H. Purchase was serving his second term when on this date in 1927 five voters filed charges against him for misconduct in office, malfeasance and habitual drunkenness. The accusations prompted Gov. Arthur Sorlie to suspend Purchase.

Specifically, Purchase was accused of hauling beer into a hotel and inviting others for a loud party. And this came during the era of national prohibition. When asked if he was afraid of getting picked up, he allegedly claimed no one could arrest him because of his position as state’s attorney of Sioux County. He also was accused of handing out liquor at a dance. One witness said Purchase was “walking wabbly, talking loud, awfully talkative; I would say pretty mushy, and his speech was sloppy,” and “he used language that a sober man would not use.”

Other witnesses said they found him drunk in the courthouse when they went to consult him. One witness said he, Purchase and four others drank “home brew” in Purchase’s office. Another time, Purchase allegedly mixed up the dates of a court hearing and a witness subpoena, which led to a case being dismissed, and he wouldn’t take it up again, leading the state attorney general to step in.

Purchase fought the accusations, which he attributed to a clique of political enemies. A judge appointed by the governor oversaw a hearing on the complaint, but gave no findings or recommendations for the governor to act upon. Nevertheless, that fall, Gov. Sorlie removed Purchase from office.

Purchase appealed his removal to the district court, citing numerous legal errors, but the district court judge upheld the governor’s action. Purchase then appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court, but the high court also found the governor justified in removing Purchase from office.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Sources:
The Bismarck Tribune. 1927, August 15. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1927, November 23. Page 6
The Bismarck Tribune. 1927, December 7. Page 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, April 5. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, November 14. Page 7
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, December 29. Page 1
State of North Dakota v. George H. Purchase, 222 N.W. 652

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