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Across the Region: North Dakota lawyers oppose victims’ rights measure

NORTH DAKOTA

Lawyers oppose victims’ rights measure

A California businessman aiming to expand the rights of crime victims in several state constitutions has donated more than $1 million toward the effort in North Dakota, supporters of the measure said Tuesday.

Opponents, including groups representing both North Dakota defense attorneys and prosecutors, say the proposal is a bad idea and would diminish defendants’ rights, clog the court system and do nothing to strengthen crime victim laws in the state.

“We really support victims’ rights groups but we just feel they are going the wrong direction on this,” said Aaron Birst, executive director of the North Dakota State’s Attorneys Association, which opposes the measure along with North Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The North Dakota Sheriff’s and Deputies Association has endorsed the measure.

Backers of the so-called Marsy’s Law turned in more than 44,000 signatures to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office on Tuesday. The group needs only about 27,000 valid signatures to bring their proposal to a public vote on Nov. 8.

The measure would, among other things, ensure crime victims are protected against alleged perpetrators and that victims have information about court proceedings and parole hearings.

Kathleen Wrigley, wife of Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley and chairwoman of the sponsoring committee, said North Dakota is one of only 18 states that do not have constitutional rights for victims. She said the proposed constitutional amendment places the same protections afforded to criminal defendants.

If approved by voters, North Dakota would join California and Illinois in adopting Marsy’s Law.

Mark Friese, a Fargo defense attorney, called the measure a “solution in search of a problem.”

“It will hurt victims rather than help them and it will burden the system,” Friese said.

McLean County prosecutor Ladd Erickson said the proposed measure would take away resources from more serious crimes.

Former Fargo municipal judge Thomas Davies called the measure “a horrible idea.”

“I think victims are protected right at this moment. If I didn’t believe it, I would be saying that,” he said.

 

IOWA

Court: Child born after father’s overdose can sue doctor

The daughter of the late Slipknot bassist Paul Gray can sue a doctor for the loss of her father’s companionship, even though she was still a fetus when he died, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The court acknowledged it’s the first time it’s had to decide such a case centered on the rights of a child during the time it is a fetus, but it cited similar conclusions in cases from Massachusetts and Wisconsin. The justices warned that it would be a mistake for anyone to try to apply the rationale behind the ruling to the abortion debate.

The ruling comes in a case centered on the death of Gray, who was found dead in a suburban Des Moines hotel room in May 2010. An autopsy showed he died of an overdose of morphine and fentanyl, a synthetic pain killer similar to morphine.

His wife, Brenna Gray, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dr. Daniel Baldi and several medical care providers claiming Paul Gray wasn’t properly monitored during drug addiction treatment. She sued for loss of spousal consortium and on behalf of her daughter who wasn’t born until several months after Gray died.

Lower courts dismissed the case, saying Brenna Gray filed the lawsuit more than two years after her husband’s death, exceeding the state’s statute of limitations for such lawsuits. The high court upheld the dismissal for Brenna Gray’s lawsuit Friday, agreeing that she waited too long, but it ruled that their daughter, identified only as O.D.G., can pursue damages.

Iowa’s statute of limitations law provides exceptions for minor children, saying any child under the age of 8 must file a claim no later than the minor’s 10th birthday.

 

WISCONSIN

Police can release full accident reports

Wisconsin police departments can release full accident and incident reports with drivers’ information without running afoul of federal privacy laws, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The decision stems from a long-running lawsuit the New Richmond News filed against the city of New Richmond in 2013. The newspaper alleged that police had censored too much information from accident and incident reports it had requested under Wisconsin’s open records law. The city argued that the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act requires redacting all information from driver records.

 

Court upholds denial of frack sand mine permit

A Wisconsin appeals court has upheld a Trempealeau County decision denying a permit to open a new sand mine for use in hydraulic fracking.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled against Iowa-based AllEnergy Sand. It had argued that a Trempealeau County environmental and land use committee in 2013 wrongly denied its permit to open the 550-acre sand mine and processing plant.

A circuit court had affirmed the county committee’s action in January 2015 and the appeals court upheld that ruling Tuesday, saying the “decision was supported by substantial evidence.”

County officials denied AllEnergy’s application saying it was rushed and incomplete. The company wanted to open a mine near the town of Arcadia.

The denial came just before the county in western Wisconsin passed a yearlong mining moratorium.

 

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