Judge rules measure backers owe retractionSupporters of a failed measure to ban North Dakota property taxes who unsuccessfully sued government officials who opposed the ban have been ordered to pay back attorney fees and write public apology letters.
By: By Wendy Reuer , Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Supporters of a failed measure to ban North Dakota property taxes who unsuccessfully sued government officials who opposed the ban have been ordered to pay back attorney fees and write public apology letters.
The group, Empower the Taxpayer, filed a suit against public officials and local lawmakers across the state in February. Along with its two principal members, Charlene Nelson of Casselton and Robert Hale of Minot, the anti-tax group asked South Central District Judge Bruce Romanick to order public officials to stop spending taxpayer money in the fight against the proposed state constitutional amendment.
The group also asked the judge to halt public officials from making what it claimed were false statements about the measure’s impact.
The group had gathered more than 27,000 petition signatures to get Measure 2 on the June 12 ballot.
Romanick dismissed the lawsuit on April 11, ruling the law that the group were attempting to invoke could only be enforced by prosecutors. The decision was appealed but the North Dakota Supreme Court upheld Romanick’s ruling.
On April 11, a group of officials named in the lawsuit as defendants — including Cass County Commissioner Scott Wagner, Wahpeton Finance Director Darcie Huwe and Divide County Commissioner Doug Graupe — asked the court for sanctions against the amendment proponents who filed the lawsuit.
The local lawmakers claimed Empower the Taxpayer’s lawsuit was frivolous and filed for the wrong reasons, court records say.
On Thursday, Romanick ruled that a public official stating his or her opposition to an initiated measure was not grounds for a lawsuit. He ordered Empower the Taxpayer pay the legal fees of the public officials and prepare a written retraction for allegations of corruption and alleged impropriety of anyone opposing Measure 2.
The group was ordered to place the retraction in all major newspapers in North Dakota at its expense.
Wendy Reuer is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.