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AG: Sex offender lawsuit not valid

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news Jamestown, 58401
Jamestown North Dakota 121 3rd St NW 58401

By Dave Kolpack

Associated Press

FARGO — A lawsuit by 23 sex offenders who are civilly committed to the North Dakota State Hospital should not be a federal case, said North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

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Stenehjem’s office is challenging the complaint filed last month that accuses the state of favoring unnecessary punishment over treatment and violating the rights of the plaintiffs by depriving them of a realistic opportunity to be released.

The suit seeks class-action status for all people who have been civilly committed to the State Hospital as sexually dangerous individuals.

Stenehjem said in court documents released Friday that the case should be dismissed. And he said the federal government should not be allowed to review the decisions of state district courts.

“Their federal claims can succeed only if this court finds the state district courts wrongly civilly committed plaintiffs or wrongly continued their civil commitments,” Stenehjem’s motion said.

The offenders can appeal the state court decisions to the North Dakota Supreme Court and then the U.S. Supreme Court, the attorney general said.

The suit was originally brought in a handwritten document filed in February by Rodney Ireland, Lester McGillis and Gerald DeCoteau, three men incarcerated at the State Hospital who are classified as sexually dangerous individuals. U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Klein said the suit appears to have merit and assigned lawyers to the case.

Attorney Christopher Brancart, who wrote the amended complaint for the plaintiffs, could not be reached for comment on Stenehjem’s motion. Brancart told The Associated Press earlier that he was unlikely to comment throughout the proceedings.

“Instead, we try to let our work speak for itself,” the attorney said in an email.

The 63-page document filed by Brancart says the state implemented “a policy of preventative detention” following calls for tougher laws against sex offenders in the wake of the 2003 kidnapping and killing of Dru Sjodin, 22, a University of North Dakota student from Pequot Lakes, Minn.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., who had been released from a Minnesota prison after serving a 23-year prison term for kidnapping, assault and rape, was convicted of killing Sjodin and sentenced to death. The outcry over Sjodin’s murder and Minnesota’s civil commitment program galvanized politicians and public officials, according to the lawsuit.

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