- Associated Press - Friday, July 22, 2016

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - The attorney for embattled Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski is calling for an end to the state’s attempt to remove him from office.

During a hearing before a special commissioner on Thursday, Peter Welte cited what he called repeated failures to uphold due process.

Kukowski faces misdemeanor charges of refusing to perform a public duty and reckless endangerment in the October 2014 death of 25-year-old jail inmate Dustin Irwin. Kukowski maintains his innocence and is scheduled for trial in August.

In the meantime, Gov. Jack Dalrymple has suspended the sheriff. Dalrymple appointed U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Klein to act as special commissioner overseeing the case when the Ward County Commission last month expressed concerns about whether Kukowski had been treated fairly, and at one point briefly reinstated the sheriff.

On Thursday, Welte listed several perceived problems that he believes support his efforts, including the governor’s suspension order not including supporting evidence and the special prosecutor in the case not having proper authority.

Special Prosecutor Seymour Jordan said he is still waiting for some reports related to the case and asked Klein to postpone the removal process, possibly until after Kukowski’s trial.

Klein said she will make a recommendation to Dalrymple in the next two weeks on how to proceed.

State law gives the governor power to remove certain public officials in some situations. North Dakota governors have removed four sheriffs in the past 31 years.

Now-retired Ward County Sheriff’s Capt. Michael Nason also faced a misdemeanor reckless endangerment charge in Irwin’s death, but the charge was dismissed earlier this month. Jordan declined to comment on his reasoning.

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