- Associated Press - Friday, June 20, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A federal appeals court says a Blanchard horse farmer who repeatedly demanded and rejected lawyers in a case that centered on North Dakota’s fence law should not have been denied a court-appointed lawyer in state court.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in a 2-1 vote that La Verne Koenig should have been provided with representation in his 2010 appeal. The case wound up in federal court after Koenig lost a North Dakota Supreme Court appeal and then argued that his constitutional rights were violated.

Koenig was convicted in state court in 2009 for failing to maintain a legal fence and allowing his horses to run at large. He received a suspended sentence and was ordered to pay $5,400 in restitution for injuries that were allegedly inflicted on a neighbor’s horse by one of Koenig’s horses.

Koenig appealed and asked for a new lawyer. In denying the request, a judge said Koenig waived his right to a court-appointed attorney for the appeal because he refused to cooperate with his lawyers during the trial.

Eighth Circuit Judges Roger L. Wollman and Kermit Bye disagreed.

“The record is clear that the state trial court was aware of Koenig’s indigency as well as of his desire to appeal,” Wollman wrote.

Judge Steven Colloton, however, noted in his dissent that Koenig engaged in several last-minute delay tactics that could be viewed as obstructing the legal process. He dumped his court-appointed attorney less than two weeks before trial and then waited until the morning of the trial to request a new lawyer.

“Koenig was warned by the state trial court that manipulative conduct could result in the waiver of his right to an attorney,” Colloton wrote.

The case stirred debate among lawmakers and ranchers about North Dakota’s 1903 fence law, which Koenig described as vague and overbroad. Koenig had claimed that a ditch and a creek on his property qualified as a fence under the law.

A phone number for Koenig could not be located. A spokesman with the federal public defender’s office was not immediately available for comment.

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