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North Dakota justices disciplined a Fargo judge candidate. He says he learned from the experience.

Blake Hankey represented a defendant and accuser in a case, a conflict that a prosecutor said he lied about. Hankey disputed claims that he made "false statements" in the case.

Blake Hankey
Blake Hankey.
Forum News Service photo
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FARGO — A candidate for a judge post in Fargo once faced disciplinary action for representing both the victim and the alleged perpetrator in an assault and terrorizing case — a conflict that a prosecutor said he lied about.

However, the candidate for judge, Blake Hankey, disputed that he lied about the situation.

Hankey, a lawyer who wants to take over for East Central District Judge Steven Marquart , was reprimanded in 2012 by the North Dakota Disciplinary Board and state Supreme Court. He was ordered to pay $7,160 for the disciplinary proceeding costs.

The action came after Meredith Larson, a Grand Forks County prosecutor at the time, filed a complaint against Hankey.

According to the North Dakota Supreme Court ruling:

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Hankey represented a defendant and an accuser in a 2011 case in which the defendant was accused of aggravated assault and terrorizing. Hankey did not tell Larson he was representing the two clients. When confronted about it, Hankey “falsely told (Larson) that he had cleared any conflict with his law partners,” the ruling said.

A hearing panel of the North Dakota Disciplinary Board found Hankey violated attorney rules surrounding conflicts of interest, meaning he should not have represented both clients. However, the panel found his “false statement” did not violate rules of conduct since it didn’t benefit him. The panel also ruled he didn’t have to tell Larson that he was representing the accuser in the case.

The state Supreme Court said in its ruling Hankey violated ethical rules when he made the “false statement,” ultimately reversing the hearing panel's decision on that matter.

Larson was unavailable for comment Thursday, June 9.

Hankey, who also is mayor of Harwood, North Dakota, acknowledged the incident in a recent interview with The Forum. The attorney of nearly 20 years said he has learned from it.

“I figured this would come up and I've accepted it,” he said.

Hankey explained that the victim in the case, the girlfriend of the man accused, asked Hankey to represent her boyfriend. The woman told Hankey she lied to police and asked if he would represent her if the charges against her boyfriend were dismissed, Hankey said.

“So it wasn't going to be at the same time,” he said. “It was going to kind of be an either-or.”

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Hankey said he cleared the representation of the two clients with one of his partners and had the clients sign conflict-of-interest waivers.

The woman also faced eviction, so Hankey drafted a letter for her regarding that and a collections matter, he said.

Hankey said he told Larson he didn’t represent the woman in the criminal matter but acknowledged representing the woman in civil cases.

Hankey disputed claims he lied about checking with his partner to determine whether he could represent the two clients. He said he cleared it with his most senior management partner, but not both.

“I think that is really important,” he said. “It makes it sound like I just blatantly lied to her and I made this up when I had cleared it with our most senior partner.”

Hankey eventually withdrew from the case and refunded his retainer to the two clients. He also said he complied with the process.

“There were no bad intentions going into this,” he said.

The two clients said they were happy with Hankey’s services and that he did not cause them injury, according to the hearing panel's transcripts and the state Supreme Court's ruling. The defendant said Hankey did the best he could under the circumstances, according to the transcripts.

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Hankey called the incident isolated, noting he hasn't faced disciplinary action since.

Hankey has practiced in a wide variety of areas, including criminal defense, family law and personal injury. He said he is dedicated to his community, adding that being a judge is his dream job.

“I'll work harder than anybody else," he said. "I will do everything and anything I can in my power to be the absolute best judge that I can be.”

Marquart announced earlier this year he would not seek reelection. Hankey is running against attorneys Jay Greenwood, David Chapman and Connie Cleveland. The Forum found no records of attorney discipline for Greenwood, Chapman and Cleveland in North Dakota.

The top two vote-getters in Tuesday's primary election will move on to the general election in November.

If elected judge, Hankey would have to step down as mayor of Harwood.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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