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Politics & Government

Dispute between McKenzie County Commission and its sheriff now before the Supreme Court

A dispute between the McKenzie County Commission and its suspended sheriff is now before the North Dakota Supreme Court.

Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger said the County Commission was attempting to fire a sheriff’s lieutenant. His attorney says that’s not the county’s prerogative – and that the elected sheriff has the hiring and firing authority. He sought a writ of prohibition to prevent the commission from taking action against the lieutenant – and to prevent the county commission from asking the McKenzie County States’ Attorney from preparing a petition asking the Governor to remove the sheriff. After the court denied the writ, the county commission hired an outside investigator to look st the sheriff and the lieutenant. The court also ruled the commission could discipline the lieutenant.

Attorney Michael Geiermann represents the sheriff. He told the court the county commission overstepped its bounds.

"The sheriff in this county does not serve at the will of the County Commission," Geiermann argued. "He is elected by the people. And we always have to get back to that premise. He is an elected official. He gets to run his office whether he's good, bad or indifferent."

McKenzie County assistant states’ attorney Todd Schwarz  argued the county commission could not work with the sheriff to resolve the issue.

"In a perfect would, we wouldn't be here, because this wouldn't have happened," Schwarz told the Court. "The relationship is broken. I'm not worried who's at fault. I want to clean this mess up."

The high court took the case under advisement. Sheriff Schwartzenberger has been suspended – and hearings to remove him from office are pending. Schwarz also argued the matter is moot – because the acting sheriff has fired the lieutenant.