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Across the Region: Feb. 23


Top prosecutors to join Robins Kaplan

South Dakota’s top federal prosecutor is joining his North Dakota counterpart in leaving those posts and opening local offices for a large law firm known for winning big settlements in high-profile litigation.

Brendan Johnson, who has been U.S. attorney for South Dakota since 2009, announced his resignation Wednesday, a week after North Dakota’s U.S. attorney, Tim Purdon, said he would be stepping down.

Department of Justice rules prevent Johnson or Purdon from saying yet where they are going, but a person with knowledge of the moves who was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly confirmed to The Associated Press that both will join Minneapolis-based Robins Kaplan LLP and open offices in Sioux Falls and Bismarck. Johnson, 39, leaves his job March 11 and Purdon, 46, on March 12.

“It’s a job I’ve loved and has been a really important part of my life,” Johnson said. “I think the work we’ve done has made a difference in people’s lives and I’m really proud of that.”

Robins Kaplan, which represents some of the biggest companies in the Upper Midwest, did not return a call seeking comment.

“Working closely with Brendan over the past five years on Indian Country public safety issues has been the highlight of my professional life,” Purdon told the AP. “As we discussed our futures, the possibility of continuing our partnership in the private sector was something we wanted to do and we worked hard to make it happen.”

Some Democrats had hoped Johnson would run for the Senate seat left open when his father, U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, retired in January. Johnson declined to say on Wednesday whether he eventually would run for public office.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler will take over the office until the Senate confirms a new U.S. attorney. In North Dakota, assistant federal prosecutor Chris Myers will take over as acting U.S. attorney.


Lawyer: Iowa prison judges should disclose outside contacts

An attorney who represents inmates says Iowa prison judges should disclose any communications they receive from wardens and others about pending disciplinary cases.

Iowa City lawyer Phil Mears says the disclosure is important so that inmates can later challenge any improper outside influences that may affect the sanctions they receive.

A report released Monday by the Office of Ombudsman found that wardens and other Iowa Department of Corrections employees routinely discuss pending cases with prison judges. The report says that practice undermines inmates’ statutorily required right to have independent judges decide sanctions for rules violations, which can lengthen their prison terms for up to a year.

One warden told investigators that he routinely lobbied the judge in his prison to “ratchet up” punishments to send a message to other inmates.


Voter ID legislation likely dead this session

Efforts to require Nebraska voters to show identification at the polls came to an abrupt halt Wednesday, less than 24 hours after lawmakers began what many expected to be a long, heated debate.

Lawmakers voted 25-15 to push the measure to the bottom of the 2015 agenda, meaning it has little chance of returning this year. The move came after numerous amendments were added to the bill, which has faced heavy resistance from lawmakers and civil rights activists who say it would disenfranchise poor and minority voters. Opponents also note that Nebraska has no documented cases of voter fraud.

The ACLU of Nebraska had warned lawmakers that it would sue the state it the bill became law.

Requiring voters to show ID is trumpeted by Republicans as a way to prevent voter fraud. Democrats call it a political ploy to suppress voters who may not have proper identification, such as poor or minority residents, who tend to vote Democratic.


Prostitution plea in oil patch

A woman accused of prostitution in the North Dakota oil patch says she will plead guilty in federal court.

Authorities say Thuy Hoang worked at prostitution parlors in Minot, Dickinson and Williston. She’s charged with conspiracy.

The brothels allegedly were operated by Loc Tran and Trina Nguyen. They are scheduled for trial in June on racketeering and extortion charges.

Authorities say Tran and Nguyen lured women from California to work as prostitutes in western North Dakota between 2012 and 2014.


Court: Walker rule-making law unconstitutional

A portion of a Republican-written law that gives the governor to the power to block new education rules is unconstitutional, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.

The law essentially gives the governor veto authority over anything the elected state schools superintendent proposes, interfering with the superintendent’s constitutional powers to supervise public education, the 4th District Court of Appeals said in a unanimous decision.

“In our view, rulemaking is one tool the (superintendent) uses to actively promote uniformity and put educational plans into action,” wrote appellate Judge Gary Sherman, a former Democratic legislator. “(The law) gives the governor the power to decide that there will be no rule or rule change on a particular subject, irrespective of the judgment of the (superintendent).”

The state Department of Justice, which is defending the law, said it was considering asking the state Supreme Court to take the case. The high court is controlled by a majority of conservative-leaning justices.


Former officer admits to nearly 60 burglaries in 7 counties

A former police lieutenant has admitted to nearly 60 burglaries in seven Wisconsin counties.

Former Waupun officer Brad Young has entered no-contest pleas to crimes committed in Fond du Lac, Dodge, Green Lake, Marquette, Burnett, Waushara and Waupaca counties.

Special prosecutor Kyle Sargent says the state agreed to charge Young with one count of burglary in each county in return for his pleas. District attorneys in all counties have agreed to recommend no more than 10 years in prison.

Young was arrested in 2013 after a multi-county crime spree. That prompted other law-enforcement agencies to take another look at unsolved burglaries.

Young told investigators he committed the crimes because of financial troubles, including gambling. Young resigned from the Waupun Police Department after 22 years as an officer.

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