- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A former attorney for the North Dakota Department of Human Services who was at the center of a criminal complaint involving an investigation into a drowning case said Wednesday that she’s ready for it to be closed.

It may happen, as charges against four of the five defendants have been dropped, including against three of them in the last week. Julie Leer, the onetime lawyer who resigned before she was charged, said she was most upset to see her cohorts dragged through the legal system.

“They work as hard as they can for the state of North Dakota and they should not have been vilified in this way,” Leer said. “I’m ready for this to be done.”

The five were taken to court in February while the Bureau of Criminal Investigation was looking into the June 2015 drowning death of a 5-year-old girl under the supervision of an unlicensed daycare center. BCI agent Craig Zachmeier said the employees held up the investigation by telling another worker not to speak to him.

Leer says that’s true, because the agency was waiting for advice from the state attorney general’s office.

Four of the workers, including Leer, were charged with conspiracy to obstruct a government function and refusing to perform a public duty. In addition the accusations of impeding the investigation, the complaint accused all five agency workers of allowing KidQuarters child care center to operate unlicensed and failing to notify authorities about it.

The obstruction charge was in regards to Zachmeier’s attempt to interview Alysha Berg, an employee at the agency’s Minot center. Leer said Berg was told to hold off talking to Zachmeier “for a day or two” until the attorney general’s office decided whether to hire outside counsel. It took 15 days before that request was denied, said Leer’s attorney, Mark Friese.

In throwing out the charges against Leer, Northeast District Judge Donovan Foughty said the issues were discretionary calls and that it wasn’t Leer’s job to handle licensing.

“The county had 100 percent authority (to monitor licensing) without DHS’s help,” Friese said. “The person responsible for advising the county is the prosecutor who prosecuted Julie.”

Liz Brocker, spokeswoman for North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, and former McHenry County prosecutor Cassey Breyer, who has resigned, declined to comment.

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

The only active case involves Laurie Gotvaslee, director of the agency’s regional center in Minot. Breyer has made a motion to dismiss the obstruction and public duty charges.

Leer said while she’d like an apology, the fact that her charges were dismissed with prejudice - meaning they can’t be refiled - was “adequate” vindication.

“I recognize that what has been done to me is nothing compared to the daily struggle of the people who lost a child,” she said. ” … I hope they understand that nothing we did was intended to minimize their loss or to somehow make them feel like we didn’t recognize their tremendous sorrow.”

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