I am a fan of Drew Wrigley. I’ve had the privilege to know him as a friend, and to admire his public service record. A couple of my colleagues in punditry have a less charitable view of Wrigley, but they are unwilling to separate leftish partisan proclivities from a fair assessment of Wrigley’s studiously apolitical work in the North Dakota U.S. Attorney’s office.
As protocol for political appointees required, Wrigley resigned as United States Attorney for the District of North Dakota in February after a second stint in the office to make way for a nominee to be named by President Joe Biden. Wrigley was U.S. Attorney from 2001 to 2009 during the George W. Bush administration and from 2019 to 2021 during the Trump years. In the interim he was lieutenant governor to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, and worked in the private sector.
Wrigley’s accomplishments as the state’s chief federal prosecutor are impressive. He set a standard of excellence that was enhanced by his determination to hire and motivate competent lawyers who shared his commitment to justice. His priority was not counting up convictions, but rather striving to make a positive impact in the state and region. He forged partnerships with law enforcement in order to pursue criminals and cripple criminal enterprises that were threatening the quality of life in North Dakota and the Northern Plains. For example, one of his last operations was breaking a pipeline that was feeding fentanyl from a southern drug cartel into North Dakota American Indian reservations. Led by Wrigley’s office, it resulted in one of the largest drug indictments in state history.
He’s taken heat because he prosecuted protesters charged with rioting in downtown Fargo last summer. He ignored the critics, making the salient argument that protesters should not be given a pass for injuring officers, destroying private property and looting. The victims of those crimes would agree.
His most high-profile case was the 2006 conviction and 2007 death penalty sentence for Afonso Rodriguez for the kidnap, rape and murder of university student Dru Sjodin in 2003. Wrigley’s critics contend his seeking the death penalty was politically motivated, but I defy the critics to make that argument to the Sjodin family. Appeals to vacate Rodriguez’s sentence have been rejected; he’s on death row in a federal prison.
The prosecutor’s record includes a settlement that helped persons with disabilities remain in their homes, and an agreement to improve access to sports venues. He ramped up prosecution of firearms violations.
Wrigley understood the public had a right to know what his office was up to. He often revealed prosecutions and arrests at news conferences on the steps of the federal courthouse. Critics said he was grandstanding. Those same pundits would have savaged him for a lack of transparency had he said nothing.
I’m a fan. Wrigley’s work as U.S. Attorney has been exemplary. I hope he returns to public service. But whatever the future brings, I wish him and his family the best.
Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. Contact him at email@example.com or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.