- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A judge has thrown out charges against a Department of Human Services lawyer who was among five agency current and former staffers accused of impeding an investigation into the drowning death of a child.

Former agency attorney Julie Leer was charged with conspiracy to obstruct a government function and refusing to perform a public duty. Department Director Maggie Anderson is facing the same charges, along with another staff attorney and the director of the agency’s Minot center. A former early child administrator is facing the public duty charge and a felony charge of tampering with physical evidence.

Northeast District Judge Donovan Foughty dismissed the charges against Leer after a hearing Tuesday in Devils Lake. The judge said a formal order will be filed “in the near future.”

Leer’s attorney, Mark Friese, said the charges should never have been brought against his client, who resigned from the agency.

“The judge’s ruling unequivocally vindicates Julie Leer,” Friese told The Associated Press Wednesday. “Prosecuting public officials for faithfully performing their public duties is, as the judge observed, absurd.”

McLean County prosecutor Cassey Breyer and Liz Brocker, spokeswoman for North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, declined Wednesday to comment.

The charges stem from a probe into the June 2015 death of a 5-year-old girl who was under the supervision of an unlicensed day care worker in Velva. Authorities said the operating license for KidQuarters day care expired one week before Gracelyn Aschenbrenner was found unresponsive in the city pool.

Heather Tudor, the day care operator, pleaded guilty in March to operating without a day care license and child neglect. She was ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution and complete 300 hours of community service.

Investigators accuse Cheryl Johnson, a McHenry County social worker, of submitted an application to the agency asking that the day care’s license be backdated to six days before the incident. She faces three charges, including tampering with public records.

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