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Cass County administrator pleads guilty to DWI

Keith Berndt

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. - The administrator of North Dakota's most populous county has agreed to plead guilty to one of two drunken driving charges he faces for a Sept. 3 incident in Minnesota's Otter Tail County.

In a plea petition filed last week, Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt of Fargo agreed to a suspended 90-day jail sentence and $585 in fines and fees, said Assistant Otter Tail County Attorney Heather Brandborg.

"In our county, it's a pretty standard disposition to a first-time DWI," she said.

Brandborg said she signed the petition on Thursday. It was en route Tuesday to Judge Barbara Hanson for her signature, a court clerk said.

In a brief phone interview Tuesday, Berndt confirmed he was pleading guilty to one count of misdemeanor DWI. He said he had nothing to add to his comments of Oct. 26, when he told The Forum that he considered the incident to be "a serious lapse of judgment on my part."

"I regret having made a very bad choice," Berndt said at the time. "I feel very badly for my family and my employer and anyone else who I've embarrassed and let down by that failure."

Berndt, 51, was arrested after a sergeant with the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office saw his black Toyota Sequoia SUV drifting and weaving on State Highway 210 near Clitherall at around 11:30 p.m., court records show.

A preliminary breath test measured Berndt's blood-alcohol concentration at 0.133 percent, the sergeant reported.

Darrell Vanyo, chairman of the Cass County Commission, said he spoke with Berndt soon after the incident and determined that it was more of a law enforcement issue than a personnel issue.

"Even though it's unfortunate, and no one's going to say it's not a serious thing ... at the same time, those things can be rectified," Vanyo said. "And Keith had indicated that it wouldn't happen again, so we take his word on that."