BISMARCK, North Dakota — An effort has stalled to remove a county prosecutor who some blame for the fact that a white supremacist who tried to take over a North Dakota town is not in prison.
A petition of no confidence for Grant County State's Attorney Todd Schwarz has garnered only about 150 signatures this summer, and organizer Greg Bruce doesn't anticipate getting many more.
While it has only about half of the signatures he hoped for — and no force of law — Bruce still plans to submit it. He acknowledges the number likely isn't enough to convince the County Commission to terminate Schwarz's contract, but believes the effort has raised awareness about what some consider shoddy work by the prosecutor — and might have even contributed to Schwarz's failure to land a state judgeship.
Schwarz defends his work in the Craig Cobb case, including dropping a charge against Cobb for allegedly terrorizing Bruce.
"Prosecuting a crime will be done the same way no matter who may be a victim," he said.
Cobb, who had bought up property in Leith and tried unsuccessfully in 2013 to turn the community into an all-white enclave, scared residents by patrolling the town with a gun. He eventually agreed to a plea deal arranged by Schwarz that put him on four years of probation for terrorizing and menacing Leith residents and kept him out of prison — where the Leith officials had wanted him.
Bruce and four others began collecting signatures against Schwarz in late spring as part of an effort to also recall two county commissioners for unrelated reasons. Less than two weeks before the submission deadline, the petitions are well short of the 356 required to force a recall election, Bruce said.
Schwarz declined to comment on Bruce's contention that the Cobb case and its aftermath might have hampered his career.
Duane Houdek, chairman of North Dakota's Judicial Nominating Committee, which studies the backgrounds of judge applicants and compiles a list of finalists from which the governor chooses, said he does not recall Schwarz's work on the Cobb case or the no-confidence petition drive as being factors in the committee not naming Schwarz a finalist for either of two judgeships the last two years.
"With regard to the Cobb case, I'm pretty sure I would remember a discussion like that had it occurred," he said.