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Wendy Reuer, Published August 31 2012

Measure 2 supporters ordered to write apology over lawsuit, pay attorney fees

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 Cmore 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 was 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 their opposition to an initiated measure was not grounds for a lawsuit. He ordered Empower the Taxpayer to 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 the state at their expense.

When contacted at her home Friday night, Nelson said she had not yet seen the ruling. She said she would prefer to read it and confer with an attorney before making comment.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530