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First woman chosen to lead US Attorney's Office in North Dakota

Jennifer Puhl will take over for interim U.S. Attorney Nick Chase, who will become a judge in Fargo.

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Jennifer Puhl is sworn in as the acting U.S. attorney for North Dakota by Judge Peter Welte on Friday, June 10, 2022, at the federal courthouse in Fargo.
Alyssa Goelzer/ The Forum
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FARGO — 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.

“Obviously, it’s a great honor, man or woman,” Puhl said. “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 the same day in 2002. Puhl and Chase praised each other after the swearing-in ceremony, saying they viewed each other as mentors.

“This office is in such good hands,” Chase said, adding that he is proud of Puhl.

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Chase was named acting U.S. attorney in February 2021. His last day at the office was Friday because North Dakota Gov. 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 a lot of progress as the head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She noted his work in 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.

“I should add that this was all going on during the (coronavirus) pandemic,” Puhl said.

Puhl 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.

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Wrigley, a Republican, was the last U.S. attorney nominated by a president. Serving his second stint as the head of that office, Wrigley was suggested for the job by former President Donald Trump, a Republican, in 2019.

Biden forced Wrigley and other Republican U.S. attorneys across the country to step down by late February 2021.

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.

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 Chase and now Puhl for the position.

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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