Supreme Court to rule in Kukowski legal case


The North Dakota Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in the case of suspended Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski. The issue before the court was whether or not to allow the state to amend a date on a document.

Special Prosecutor Seymour Jordan, the Divide County state’s attorney, asked by the Ward County commissioners to handle the Kukowski matter in order to avoid any perceived conflict in Ward County, explained to the court how a date of 2015 appeared on a document rather than 2014. Ward County Jail inmate Dustin Irwin died October 6, 2014, not 2015. One of three misdemeanor charges against Kukowski involves Irwin.

District Judge Lolita Romanick, Grand Forks, heard similar arguments from both sides in the matter in late December 2016. She stated that the matter should move forward to a jury trial but, a few days later, issued a ruling denying that the incorrect date be amended. Jordan was asking the Supreme Court to over-rule Romanick’s decision.

“I don’t see how the state can proceed without the amendment of the complaint,” Jordan told the court Tuesday. “Dismiss simply because of a mistake on a date? Even the defendant testified on the events of 2014. They knew clearly. The defense has drug this case on long enough.”

Defense attorney Peter Welte told the court, “Our client has been dragged through a personal and professional nightmare through sloppy prosecution. Dustin Irwin was deceased. It can’t be a crime at that time. This is not a clerical error. It was a calculated decision.”

Welte further argued that the court system is already over-burdened and that “a line needs to be drawn and this is the case to draw this line. The trial judge (Romanick) is best suited to hear these matters.”

When Welte reiterated to the court that the wrong date on the document was an intentional act, a judge on the court asked, “If I hit the wrong key on a typewriter, is that an intentional act?”

“It can be argued,” replied Welte.

Welte told the court “there is prejudice here” against Kukowski and that a “public official being charged with a crime is in and of itself prejudice.”

Jordan was given the last say in the approximately 45 minute session before the court. He told the judges that he was not denying the error on the date was his fault.

“I think there is an issue here of what a prosecutor is supposed to do when he makes a clerical error,” said Jordan. “There’s never been a case denied on a clerical error. On my oath as a prosecutor, it was clearly a clerical error. That’s all it was.”

Kukowski is charged with one count of public servant refusing to perform duty and two counts of reckless endangerment. Three jury trial dates, the first set for June 20, 2016, have been canceled due to continuing legal actions. No trial date for Kukowski is currently scheduled pending the outcome of Tuesday’s arguments.

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s session, the court informed the attorneys that they would take the issue under advisement. There was no indication of when the high court would issue a ruling as to whether or not to allow the date in question to be amended.


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