Judge Orders Pro-Measure 2 Group To Pay Legal Fees And Issue A Retraction After Losing Lawsuit

Measure 2 Courtroom Debate April 3, 2012

An order issued by Judge Bruce Romanick requires Empower the Taxpayer, the grassroots group which backed Measure 2 (which would have abolished property taxes) to pay the legal fees for naming four county officials in a lawsuit alleging inappropriate use of taxpayer resources to oppose a ballot measure.

The full order is below.  A key excerpt:

This Court finds it appropriate to sanction Empower the Taxpayer for naming Divide County Commissioner Doug Graupe, Cass County Commissioner Scott Wagner, Wahpeton Finance Director Darcie Huwe, and Williams County Auditor Beth Innis in the complaint because a competent attorney could not have had a good faith belief that a cause of action exists merely for a public official stating his or her opposition to an initiated measure.

Empower the Taxpayer shall pay the reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs associated with defending these individuals in this action. Counsel for these parties will have to attempt to apportion the fees and costs between the named individuals and the two associations. The affidavit shall be submitted to the Court for review regarding fees. Empower the Taxpayer is further ordered to prepare a written retraction of allegations of corruption and allegations of alleged impropriety for anyone expressing their opinions against Measure 2, for state-wide publication at the expense of Empower the Taxpayer. This written retraction will be presented to the Court and the affected Defendant’s for review prior to publishing in the major papers in ND.

Note that the judge is limiting this order to only for of the defendants (Tax Commissioner Cory Fong, among others, were also named). This is because of all the defendants, these four were included only for statements they made as opposed to the use of taxpayer resources.

Frankly, I think the judge is being a bit too vindictive here. It was hardly frivolous to question whether a law prohibiting the use of taxpayer resources to oppose a ballot measure extends to public officials using their official titles. Empower the Taxpayer shouldn’t have to give a pound of flesh because they tested the limits of the law.

I don’t know how Empower the Taxpayer will respond, but my guess is that they’ll likely appeal.  And given how rare frivolous judgments are, my guess is they would probably win that appeal.  But we shall see.

What’s more, we still have a real problem with groups like the ND Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Counties and the League of Cities getting huge amounts of taxpayer dollars while simultaneously engaging in explicitly political activities.

Groups that lobby, groups that engage in political activism for or against ballot measures and the like, shouldn’t get our tax dollars. If the judges don’t think our laws as written make such practices illegal, then perhaps the law needs to be changed.


Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • jimmypop

    “It was hardly frivolous to question whether a law prohibiting the use of taxpayer resources to oppose a ballot measure extends to public officials using their official titles. ”

    the judge agrees with you…. ask the questions. few here care whether questions are asked in court. where you screwed up is trying to charge BY NAME people for talking.

    • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

      You a lawyer? My understanding is that names have to be named, and that it is customary to file suit “individually and severally” and let the court sort out the liabilities. But that’s just my amateur guess.

  • sbark

    Political punishment……from people who Clint Eastwood just said………..are our employees…….
    something is wrong with that picture.

  • spud

    This is how you get rid of dumb lawsuits. Pay up losers.

    • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

      Would it would be so easy to get rid of dumb bloggers, hack.

      • spud

        If you sue and lose you need to pay the fees of those you went after. You got clobbered at the polls loser get over it.

        • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

          It must be truly lovely to have a mind as simple as yours, and uncluttered with wit to boot.

          • spud

            Hey if you sue someone and lose you foot the bill. As far as a retraction being issued that is wrong and petty on the part of the judge. No one had there reputation inflamed. To me where do draw the line from being an individual and being part of a commission or organization. You write a lousy bill that goes down in flames then a bogus lawsuit goes south also. Empower the Taxpayer will gladly accept any donation you are willing to send there way Flamethrower.

          • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

            My guess is that there will be a long and tangled trail to the settlement of this that will bring up all sorts of interesting issues re gummint vs. the People. The “retraction” business adds to the possibility that the judge is in “teach ‘em a lesson” not to screw with the gummint mode—egged on by certain parties. It sounds like a decision made by Judge Isaac Parker.

  • kevindf

    Why is Cory Fong, whose household probably pulls in at least a third of a million dollars in government compensation a year, inserting himself into ballot measures?

  • headward

    If the judge is being paid by property taxes, wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest?

    • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

      Maybe not the only source of his pay …

    • jimmypop

      its state money…. thats why its STATE court.

  • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

    Surprising, but not shocking. Just another indication where government in North Dakota is at and where it’s headed. Looks like an environment where Obama & Holder would be right at home after retirement.

    • VocalYokel

      “…an environment where Obama & Holder would be right at home after retirement.”

      Let’s hope that’s sooner rather than later…although I had envisioned Barry-O and Eric the Corrupt in adjoining cells in Leavenworth.

  • RCND

    What really bothers me is the direction from the bench to prepare a written retraction, and the conditions placed on that

    • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

      Maybe he set himself up to be overturned so his friends would think he was really doing something.

      • RCND

        Always a possibility with these people I guess

        • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

          The entire population of N.D. is about that of a medium-large city. Professional and professional circles are very small and tight, and everyone knows everyone and they get together frequently, both professionally and socially. Cronyism, collusion, and downright nepotism are epidemic—one might say unavoidable. In decisions of this sort, the good old boys rely on a certain amount of cosmetics in order that they be seen to take things seriously while at the same time scratching each others’ backs.

  • borborygmi

    I have always liked the idea of the losing party to pay the costs. Keeps frivolous law suits to a minimum