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Across the Region: Menominee tribe awaits judge’s ruling in hemp lawsuit


Menominee tribe awaits judge’s ruling in hemp lawsuit

The leader of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin says it won’t plant a new crop of industrial hemp until a federal judge resolves the tribe’s lawsuit against the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Chairwoman Joan Delabreau says the DEA raid last fall that destroyed the tribe’s first crop has cost the Menominee millions of dollars and unfairly suggested that “we were growing high-grade marijuana.” She made her comments Friday after attorneys for the tribe and the federal government presented oral arguments before U.S. District Judge William Griesbach on the DEA’s motion to dismiss the case.

Industrial hemp usually has very low levels of THC, the active chemical in marijuana, but it has commercial uses from hemp oil for health and beauty products to hemp fiber for boards and even a hemp-based concrete. The tribe wants to explore the cultivation of hemp as a way to boost the struggling economy on its reservation near Shawano in northeastern Wisconsin.

Tribal attorney Tim Purdon argued that the College of the Menominee Nation has the right to grow industrial hemp for research purposes.

Federal law allows cultivation of hemp as a research project by states and institutions of higher education in states that have adopted laws permitting such projects. Purdon argued that the Menominee Indian Tribe is a sovereign nation that has met those requirements of the law by approving a tribal ordinance to allow growing industrial hemp for research.

But Justice Department attorney Kathryn Wyer argued that the term “state” only applies to state governments, not tribal governments. Wisconsin has not authorized growing hemp, even for research.

Griesbach gave no indication when he would rule, the Shawano Leader reported. But he asked why authorities chose to confiscate the tribe’s 30,000 hemp plants rather than try a different approach.

“It seems heavy-handed,” the judge said of the raid. “I’m just wondering.”


Court suspends former mayor’s law license

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has suspended the law license of former New Berlin Mayor James Gatzke for mishandling the affairs and money of a woman whose husband killed himself in 2005.

Patricia Schaeffer received more than $2.5 million in life insurance policies after the death of her husband, who was under investigation for stealing from his business partner. According to Tuesday’s Supreme Court opinion, Gatzke invested the money in businesses he also had a stake in and converted other clients’ funds to cover shortages in Schaeffer’s holdings.

The Supreme Court suspended Gatzke’s license for three years and ordered him to pay about $600,000. Gatzke, who didn’t respond to a message seeking comment, was mayor of New Berlin from 1997 to 2001.




U.S. Supreme Court asked to review Beatrice 6 ruling

Gage County has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court decision that gives six people wrongly convicted in a 1985 slaying another chance at suing officials who prosecuted them.

An attorney for the southeastern Nebraska county, Jennifer Tomka, is hoping to reverse the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling issued in December.

That ruling revived the federal lawsuit of the wrongly convicted people — known as the Beatrice Six — against Gage County and the officials who built the murder cases against them.

Attorneys for the six haven’t yet responded to Tomka’s petition.

The six people — James Dean, Kathleen Gonzalez, Debra Shelden, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow and Joseph White — were wrongly convicted in the 1985 killing of Helen Wilson in Beatrice and served a combined 77 years in prison before DNA testing cleared them in 2008.

They were the first people in the state cleared by DNA evidence, which was made possible by a 2007 Nebraska Supreme Court ruling.

Wilson’s killing has since been linked though DNA evidence to Bruce Allen Smith, who grew up in Beatrice and returned to town days before the slaying, then quickly went back to Oklahoma. He died in 1992.

The Beatrice Six have argued that Gage County investigators recklessly strove to close the case despite contradictory evidence, rather than seek justice.

Tomka has argued that Gage County should not be held liable for actions taken by the sheriff, because the county had no control of or authority over the sheriff or his deputies. The county did not conduct the investigation, seek arrest warrants or arrest the six, she said.



Water works lawsuit trial delayed to June 2017

The lawsuit filed by the Des Moines Water Works in federal court against several upstream agriculture drainage districts has been delayed by nearly a year.

Originally scheduled for trial in August, a judge rescheduled the three-week trial for June 26, 2017.

Water Works Board Chairman Graham Gillette says that will give the Iowa Supreme Court time to resolve constitutional questions the federal judge posed to it prior to trying the case.

Gillette says a delay also gives state leaders time to reconsider providing money for agriculture practices that would reduce water pollutants.

The water utility for about 500,000 central Iowa customers blames farmland runoff for high levels of nitrate that cost millions of dollars to remove.

Water Works officials want farm drainage districts regulated under the federal Clean Water Act.

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