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Court Settles Who’s Governor

January 5, 1985

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ George Sinner was elected governor in November, but it took an order from a makeshift version of the state Supreme Court to get him into office to name new justices to the high court.

Sinner, who was trying to prevent outgoing Republican Gov. Allen I. Olson from making the two last-minute appointments to the state Supreme Court, claimed he had the authority to take office New Year’s Day.

But a lawyer for Olson argued before the Supreme Court on Friday that his four-year term did not end until today.

The five justices, four of them appointed just to hear the case, heard nearly an hour of arguments and deliberated for three hours before announcing their unanimous decision Friday.

″The decision is that George Sinner is and has been the governor of North Dakota since the first moments of Jan. 1,″ said Chief Justice Ralph Erickstad, the court’s usual head.

Later, Sinner and Olson talked privately for about five minutes in Olson’s bare office before reading short statements. Olson then quietly left the Capitol.

Olson, as state attorney general, wrote an opinion in 1980 saying state officials could take office on Jan. 1.

″I don’t know whether to be pleased that the Supreme Court upheld my 1980 opinion or sad that they disagreed with some subsequent reassessment of our position,″ he said. ″They have disposed of this issue, so there are no longer any holes in the law.″

Sinner, a Democrat, said he felt vindicated by the opinion.

″I didn’t have a great deal of emotion about appointing the justices,″ he said. ″It seemed to me that it was my job.″

But the controversy won’t help his relations with the Republican-controlled Legislature, a GOP leader predicted Friday night.

″Sinner has grabbed this power merely because he wanted to make the two appointments to the Supreme Court,″ said State Republican Party Chairwoman Marlys Fleck.

She suggested Olson skip Tuesday’s inaugural ceremonies and leave the state-of-the state address to Sinner. The outgoing governor traditionally gives the speech and Sinner has asked him to do so again this year. Olson said he is considering the request.

A Democratic leader in the Legislature, however, predicted that Sinner’s handling of the impasse will only help him.

By pursuing the issue to the Supreme Court, Sinner sent a ″clear message that he’s a man of his word,″ said House Minority Leader Charles Mertens.

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