BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that the McKenzie County Commission overstepped its authority when it disciplined a lieutenant in its sheriff's department.

The Supreme Court ruled that the commission can't restrict or remove a sheriff's authority, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

"Rather, under our law, the authority for that discipline lies with (McKenzie County) Sheriff (Gary) Schwartzenberger and not the board," the judges wrote in the unanimous opinion.

The district court previously denied Schwartzenberger's request to prohibit the commission from placing Lt. Michael Schmitz on unpaid administrative leave.

"The parties have cited no provisions in McKenzie County's personnel policies and employee handbook, and we have found none," the court's opinion said.

Schmitz was placed on leave following an investigation into bullying allegations. An interim sheriff later fired him for an unrelated disciplinary reason.

The commission also had petitioned to remove Schwartzenberger from office, but he was reinstated as sheriff Aug. 4 after Gov. Doug Burgum dismissed a months-long proceeding.

Schwartzenberger currently faces charges for unauthorized use of county credit cards.

Schwartzenberger's attorney, Tom Dickson, said the higher court's ruling shows Schwartzenberger has authority over his department. Dickson said he's not sure if the ruling will have any bearing on Schwartzenberger's other charges. He said that'll be up to the North Dakota Attorney General's office.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune,