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Bill would reimburse lawyer fees resulting from audit

February 2, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A bill is set for a hearing before a North Dakota House committee this week that would reimburse attorney fees for several officials who were caught up in criminal investigations resulting from 2019 state audits.

The legislation would reimburse former Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer and former Commerce Senior Manager Holly Holt, as well as three North Dakota State College of Science leaders, including President John Richman.

The bill would reimburse “state employee claims for wrongful criminal investigation or prosecution” related to their work in the last two years and in the future. Reimbursement would apply if a criminal probe did not result in a conviction. The cost of reimbursement is about $48,000, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

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“We were all an audience to a situation that necessitated this legislation,” Republican Rep. Sen. Curt Kreun, said Monday when introducing the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kreun was referring to the audit of the state’s Commerce Department being referred for a criminal investigation, but resulting in no charges.

North Dakota Auditor Joshua Gallion released a report in 2019 that said the Department of Commerce violated the law on bidding non-competitive contracts for the state’s “Be Legendary” logo and an associated rebranding effort for the state.

The logo sparked criticism when the contract was awarded to a Minnesota firm headed by a woman who once worked for North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum at a Fargo software business.

The bill has a hearing scheduled before the House Appropriations Committee Thursday.