ND lawmaker gets $2,500 fine, 250 hours community service in speculation case

A North Dakota judge on Thursday ordered a state lawmaker to serve 250 hours of community service and pay a $2,500 fine after a jury convicted him of a misdemeanor in connection with a controversial state-leased building he has an ownership in.State District Judge Bobbi Weiler also ordered Republican Rep. Jason Dockter, of Bismarck, to pay $325 in court fees, undergo fingerprinting and serve 360 days of unsupervised probation. She also granted him a deferred imposition, meaning the conviction will be taken off his record if he doesn’t violate probation.A jury on May 3 convicted Dockter of speculating or wagering on official action. The misdemeanor charge is punishable up to 360 days in jail and/or a $3,000 fine. Complaints to the state Ethics Commission led to Dockter’s charging in December 2023. He pleaded not guilty.JURY CONVICTS NORTH DAKOTA LAWMAKER OF MISDEMEANOR SPECULATIONDockter, 50, is a co-owner of companies that own and worked on the building leased by the late Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in 2020. The two were friends, but Dockter has denied any wrongdoing in the lease arrangement. The building drew scrutiny when Stenehjem’s successor, Attorney General Drew Wrigley, disclosed a construction cost overrun of over $1 million incurred under Stenehjem. The overrun was an unpleasant surprise to state lawmakers, who raised concerns about trust and transparency.A criminal complaint alleged that, as a member of the North Dakota House of Representatives, Dockter voted “on legislative bills appropriating money to pay for property he had acquired a pecuniary interest in,” against state law and legislative rules.Prosecutor Ladd Erickson had recommended a one-year deferred imposition with $325 in court fees and fingerprinting. He also said in a court document that the Ethics Commission “is the proper body to issue any additional penalties beyond” his recommended sentence. An investigation by the ethics panel was paused by Dockter’s charge, and it can resume after sentencing, Erickson wrote.Defense attorney Lloyd Suhr agreed with Erickson’s recommendation, citing Dockter’s lack of criminal history and his family and local ties, and saying he deserves to be treated the same as similar first-time misdemeanor offenders.Dockter declined to comment regarding the sentence. The judge chastised him for that.”The reason I wanted to hear something from you is I look at this as the citizens of North Dakota being the victims and being taken advantage of, and I didn’t hear an apology from you to the citizens, and I’m a little disappointed in that,” Weiler said.The judge said, “I don’t know how more direct and unique it gets,” regarding the lease situation, a reference to a House rule that members shall disclose personal or private interests on bills that affect him or her “directly, individually, uniquely, and substantially,” and may not vote without the House’s consent.”My biggest concern is you don’t think it’s substantial,” Weiler said.She granted the deferred imposition, but she added the community service hours and fine as stipulations, based on the $250,000 she said he “made off the citizens of North Dakota” by voting on a two-year budget bill last year.”I was trying to find a way to hopefully help you understand so that we’re not seeing this again,” Weiler said.Dockter must fulfill the community service with the homeless community within six months, or about 10 hours a week, the judge said.”Maybe you can see how the other side lives, Mr. Dockter,” Weiler said.”I’ll take whatever it is you’re giving me,” Dockter told the judge after she asked if he had any questions. He met with loved ones on the courthouse steps afterward.Suhr said the judge “was well within her discretion and largely accepted the recommendations of the parties” on sentencing.Republican House Majority Leader Mike Lefor has said he disagrees with the jury’s verdict and plans to review the statute and rules involved.On Wednesday, Lefor wrote to Republican Rep. Emily O’Brien, chair of the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee, in a letter “to direct the committee to study the legislative rules, ethics rules, state statutory provisions, and constitutional provisions relating to potential conflicts of interest by a public official.”Democratic House Minority Leader Zac Ista called on Dockter to resign after the verdict. Dockter said he has not yet made decisions about whether to appeal or resign.”It’s just so fresh right now,” he said.
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