Tribal Input on Next US Attorney for North Dakota is Justified

A report in the Bismarck Tribune states, “the five federally recognized tribes in North Dakota want a say in who becomes the next U.S. attorney for the state.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office plays a pivotal role in the prosecution of the most serious crimes committed on the reservations. I support the tribal request, but question why all of a sudden? The answer could well point to Drew Wrigley’s aspirations.

Drew Wrigley

You’ll recall current US Attorney Chris Myers was interested in continuing to serve. That desire was impeded when former US Attorney and Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley sent his own resume to the Trump White House. Now, Myers would need to succumb to appointment hearings and Washington D.C. politics instead of simply doing the job. Myers has decided against that which is a loss for North Dakota.

The partisan nature can already be seen from Senator John Hoeven who publicly supported Myers until Wrigley came along. Hoeven was quick to retreat and throw support behind his former Deputy Chief of Staff Wrigley. Maybe pause a moment before asking Hoeven to be a reference on your resume, he might quickly flip-flop and support the other applicant in the process.

According to Tribal members, they want to make sure the next US Attorney can communicate and be a reliable partner in prosecuting crime on the reservations. If that is the case, history is not kind to Wrigley. What I’m talking about can be viewed in a 2010 Government Accountability report to the Committee on Indian Affairs. The report was completed at the request of former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, who chaired the Indian Affairs Committee, after information from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Indian Affairs was absent. The numbers in the report are compiled from 2005-2009 when Wrigley was US Attorney.

Below is the compilation of numbers from those years. I want to emphasize the “declination” rate. A declination by a prosecutor means they make the decision to decline to file criminal charges based on the results of a law enforcement investigation. During that period, North Dakota had the second highest declination rate in the country at 64%. Nearly two-out-of-three cases were declined by Wrigley’s office.

U.S. Department of Justice Declinations of Indian Country Criminal
Matters (2005-2009)

Following that report, the Tribal Law and Order Act, sponsored by US Senator Byron Dorgan, required the DOJ provide these number on a regular basis. Here are the results from 2011-2014. Links to the reports are included on the year.

  • 2011 : 161 referrals; 38 declinations, 24%
  • 2012 : 146 referrals; 61 declinations, 42%
  • 2013 : 146 referrals; 52 declinations, 36%
  • 2014 : 188 referrals; 52 declinations, 28%
  • Totals: 2011-2014: 641 referrals; 203 declinations, 32%

Tim Purdon

As you can see, the declination rate was cut in half. The US Attorney during that time was Tim Purdon. It is no secret how Purdon did it. In fact, he wrote a law review article for UND laying it out. It wasn’t that attorneys in the office started to care – they had always cared. It was the reallocation of resources in the office and more time spent on the reservations themselves to make sure the investigations were thorough and complete so that prosecutions for crimes committed could be pursued. In other words, partnership, priorities, and reliability made the difference which is exactly what the tribes want in the next US Attorney.

Take that past from 2005 to 2009 and then reflect back on the handling of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest. Former Governor Dalrymple and his Lt. Governor Wrigley didn’t even go down to communicate with the tribe before things escalated by out-of-state protesters. They made it a point to talk about the situation to editorial boards and on radio programs, but not with the tribe. It doesn’t appear much has changed over ten years.

To be clear; this isn’t about partisanship. The US Attorneys Office should not be about personal politics. We shouldn’t see this position campaigned for in the opinion sections of our area newspapers. Unfortunately, that has been the case in recent months. This is about results. The numbers are clear in this case. For those reasons, I get why all of sudden the five federally recognized tribes want to be heard in the selection of the next US Attorney for North Dakota. Wrigley put his own name out there and they maybe don’t want to see him appointed again. The tribes want a partner who will do the job, prosecute crimes, and keep their children safe.