Ex-North Dakota Workers’ Comp Director Wants to Reopen Case

August 13, 2010

The attorney for a former North Dakota official who was convicted of misusing public funds says he will ask that the case be reopened because of a prosecutor’s questionable conduct.

Mike Hoffman, an attorney for former North Dakota workers’ compensation Director Sandy Blunt, said he will ask for a new trial or dismissal of Blunt’s December 2008 felony conviction on allegations that he misspent more than $26,000.

Hoffman said he wants the case reopened because one of Blunt’s prosecutors, Cynthia Feland, asked the trial judge to determine whether she violated any rules if she did not provide Hoffman with a state auditor’s memo that he believes was crucial to Blunt’s defense.

Feland, who is an assistant Burleigh County state’s attorney, is running for a district judgeship this fall. She made her request Monday after a complaint challenging her conduct in Blunt’s case was filed with the state’s disciplinary board for attorneys.

Feland said Wednesday she is confident she will be vindicated. “I don’t believe we did anything wrong,” she said.

Blunt was head of North Dakota’s Workforce Safety and Insurance agency, which provides coverage for medical bills, lost wages and rehabilitation and training for workers who are injured on the job. Businesses are required to buy coverage.

Blunt was accused of allowing an agency senior executive, Dave Spencer, to collect about $7,000 in sick pay when Spencer was not ill, and letting Spencer keep almost $8,000 in moving expenses that he should have repaid when he left the agency in September 2006.

Prosecutors also alleged that Blunt illegally spent more than $11,000 on refreshments, flowers, balloons and decorations for agency meetings, and for restaurant, shopping and movie theater gift cards for agency workers. Blunt was not accused of personally benefiting from the spending.

Jason Wahl, a senior auditor in the North Dakota state auditor’s office, wrote a memo to Feland a year before Blunt’s trial in which he concluded Spencer should not have to repay the moving expenses because he was forced out of his job. Hoffman said prosecutors used the moving-expense information anyway as an example of Blunt’s alleged profligacy.

“In the context of the entire case, (the memo’s) importance would have permeated virtually every aspect of the case, procedurally and substantively,” Hoffman wrote in a letter to prosecutors.

Feland said Wahl’s conclusion did not exonerate Blunt. She said she could not prove Hoffman was given the memo, but said all of the information it contained was turned over, including transcripts and audio recordings of interviews and copies of Wahl’s working papers.

The Burleigh County prosecutor’s office also allows defense lawyers to go through prosecutors’ files if they wish, and Hoffman never did, Feland said.

At Blunt’s trial, Spencer testified he was forced out of his job. But Feland said the circumstances did not matter in determining whether Spencer was obliged to repay the moving expenses.

“There’s no exculpatory information,” she said, adding that whether Spencer wanted to quit or was forced to leave “is not really a relevant issue.”

Feland declined comment on the disciplinary complaint. Brent Edison, an attorney for the disciplinary board who is himself a former director of Workforce Safety and Insurance, also declined comment.

North Dakota’s Supreme Court upheld Blunt’s conviction last month.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.