For the first time ever, a woman will lead the U.S. Attorney’s Office in North Dakota.

Federal Judge Peter Welte swore in Jennifer Puhl as the acting U.S. attorney Friday, June 10, at the Quentin N. Burdick Federal Courthouse in Fargo. On Monday, she will take over for interim U.S. Attorney Nicholas Chase as he moves on to become a judge in Fargo.

 

“Obviously, it’s a great honor, man or woman,” Puhl said of her new role as acting U.S. attorney for North Dakota. “To be an employee of the United States Attorney’s Office is an awesome responsibility, and I take that seriously. We do important work here.”

 

Former U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley hired Puhl and Chase on June 15, 2002—the same day—to serve as prosecutors for his office in North Dakota’s northern district court system. Puhl and Chase praised each other after the swearing-in ceremony on Friday morning; Puhl said she viewed Chase as her mentor throughout her time with him at their previous firm before moving to this position

Chase was named acting U.S. attorney in February 2021, and he served until Friday. On that day, Governor Doug Burgum appointed Chase to serve as a judge in the East Central Judicial District.

Chase’s judgeship will be based in Fargo, and he will hear cases from Cass, Steele, and Traill counties. He will take over for Judge Thomas Olson, who announced his retirement in February.

Puhl said Chase has made great progress as the head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office by addressing violence in communities, dedicating additional resources to prosecuting drug trafficking on American Indian reservations and bringing civil cases that helped enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act.

She noted that all this was going on during a pandemic (coronavirus).

Jennifer Puhl has been nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as the U.S. attorney for North Dakota, and she is expected to be confirmed by Congress.

Puhl is currently an assistant U.S. attorney in Minnesota, where she has worked since 2010. She has the respect of everyone in the office, Chase said, adding that she is humble and doesn’t seek credit for the work she has done. He noted her work in child exploitation, drug trafficking and civil cases.

Wrigley said he couldn’t be more proud of Chase and Puhl. He called Puhl an ethical, intelligent and driven attorney who is creative and courageous.

“Jennifer Puhl is a fearless advocate, and she will be a fearless U.S. attorney,” he said.

Questions remain over when President Joe Biden, a Democrat, will pick a long-term U.S. attorney for North Dakota. The president typically nominates the head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Congress must approve the nomination

It’s been more than a year since former U.S. Attorney Tim Puhl stepped down from his post and has yet to be replaced by President Joe Biden.

Puhl, who led the North Dakota office for about a year before leaving in early 2021, said he was forced out after refusing to fire Wrigley and other Republican U.S. attorneys across the country by late February 2021 as part of an effort to “clean house” at the Justice Department.

The president hasn’t publicly said anything about his choice to lead the North Dakota office. Several former Democratic U.S. senators from North Dakota have thrown their support behind Mac Schneider, a Fargo-based attorney and former state lawmaker, for the position.

A request for comment from the White House was not answered by publication time Friday. The U.S. attorney post must be filled while a president weighs their candidates for a long-term replacement.

Acting or interim leaders of U.S. attorney offices are chosen by the chief federal judge for a state; it was Judge Welte who selected Puhl and now Chase for the position.”

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