Burgum to be defended by office headed by political rival

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said Tuesday he will use state lawyers from the office of a former political foe to defend him against a lawsuit filed by the Republican-led Legislature challenging his veto powers.

Burgum's decision means he will be represented in a fight with the state Legislature by the office of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who lost to Burgum in a hotly-contested Republican primary for governor last year. Lawmakers from both parties believe Burgum overstepped his authority on some vetoes he issued after the Legislature adjourned.

It's unclear if Stenehjem will defend the case personally in the state Supreme Court, something that the attorney general rarely does in North Dakota.

Stenehjem was traveling out of the country Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the governor had no further comment on the selection. Burgum has said he would "respond accordingly and firmly to any attempt to infringe on executive branch authority."

Nowatzki said Fargo attorney Bruce Quick was hired by the governor's office and found there would be no conflict of interest in using state attorneys. Nowatzki said the state had not been billed yet by the private attorney.

The dispute stems from the governor using his line-item veto to change parts of several spending bills. The state Constitution gives the governor power to do that on spending measures, but legislators say Burgum went farther, deleting words or phrases in a way that changed intent.

The lawsuit filed earlier this month asks the state Supreme Court to determine the legal effect of the partial vetoes, including the current status of each affected bill.

The North Dakota Constitution requires the Supreme Court to hear the case without first referring it to a lower court. The state's high court has given Burgum until Jan. 16 to file arguments.

In June, Stenehjem offered a written opinion on the vetoes that mostly sided with the Legislature but also backed Burgum on others.

Stenehjem said the governor has the power to veto parts of an appropriation bill that are related to a vetoed appropriation, as long as the bill can still stand as workable legislation. But he said the governor can't veto conditions or restrictions on appropriations without vetoing the appropriation itself.

Stenehejem also said Burgum was not authorized to veto some language in the State Water Commission and Department of University and School Lands appropriations. But Stenehjem said the Legislature ceded too much of its power by giving its Budget Section "significant budgetary decisions," which was not authorized under the state constitution.

The Budget Section has 42 members, compared to the 141 members of the North Dakota Legislature. It includes legislative leaders and members of the House and Senate appropriations committees.

Stenehjem said the full Legislature should have made the spending decisions, but lawmakers disagree.

Under state law, the state attorney general is required to represent the state "before the Supreme Court."

The Legislature already has hired two private Bismarck attorneys, Randall Bakke and Shawn Grinolds, to defend its lawsuit.

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