More plaintiffs join suit over state’s anti-corporate farming law
The number of plaintiffs suing to abolish North Dakota’s anti-corporate farming law has expanded and now includes people and companies with ties to four U.S. states and a former Soviet republic.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is defending the law, said the addition of plaintiffs only exacerbates problems with what he considers an overly vague lawsuit.
The North Dakota Farm Bureau, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and a Wisconsin dairy company that wants to expand into North Dakota sued in federal court in June. They want a judge to declare unconstitutional the nearly century-old law that aims to protect the state’s family farming heritage by barring large corporations from owning agricultural operations.
The original plaintiffs were recently joined by: a North Dakota hog farmer who is a member of the North Dakota Sow Center, which owns and operates several hog facilities and has partners in North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa; the North Dakota Pork Council; a North Dakota cattle rancher who wants to expand; and Global Beef Consultants, which provides cattle consulting and export services and also owns two ranches in Kazakhstan.
The lawsuit asserts that North Dakota’s anti-corporate farming law hurts the agriculture industry by restricting business tools available to farmers, lowering the value of their operations, discriminating against residents of other states and interfering with interstate commerce. It asks a judge to declare the law unconstitutional and bar the state attorney general from enforcing it.
Stenehjem has said the lawsuit is too vague for him to even respond, and he’s asked U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland to order the plaintiffs to more specifically detail why they believe the law is unconstitutional.
Stenehjem has said in court filings that the state is “requesting reasonably” that the plaintiffs identify what specific problems they allege in a chapter of law that “consists of over 6,500 words and comprises over 100 individually numbered provisions in the North Dakota Century Code.”
Hovland has not yet ruled on Stenehjem’s request.
State fights release of training videos for prosecutors
Law enforcement training videos featuring Attorney General Brad Schimel aren’t subject to release under the open records law and doing so could tell pedophiles how to evade capture, Wisconsin’s solicitor general told the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The court is considering whether the state’s open records law requires the 2009 and 2013 recordings to be made public, or whether they can remain secret. The tapes were requested by the state Democratic Party in 2014 just weeks before Schimel was elected attorney general and have been the subject of a few court rulings. The high court will release an opinion in the coming months.
Justices peppered attorneys Tuesday with questions about whether the open records law requires the tapes to be released and whether doing so would harm victims or reveal too much information about law enforcement techniques.
“There’s really no good that would come from releasing these two tapes,” Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin said. “But there would be a lot of bad.”
The DOJ also has argued that the videos would undermine the state’s ability to train prosecutors and police officers in the future.
Schimel, who tries to position himself as a strong advocate of transparency and regularly holds training sessions for government officials on the open meetings and records laws, did not attend Tuesday’s arguments. The tapes were made when Schimel was Waukesha County district attorney.
Democrats say the videos show Schimel making questionable remarks at State Prosecutors Education and Training seminars, which were sponsored by DOJ. The lawsuit offered no evidence supporting the allegation, which Schimel has denied, and a lower court said he did not appear to say anything inappropriate.
Attorney Michael Bauer, representing the Democratic Party, argued Tuesday that there’s no information on the tapes that isn’t already readily available on the Internet or that is outdated.
“You come away with ‘What’s so novel to be protected here?’“ Bauer said. “It really is basic, well-known techniques to law enforcement.”
The 2009 video was made during a presentation about internet sexual predator cases and the 2013 presentation centered on interacting with victims of sensitive crimes.
In the 2013 video, Schimel details a well-known sex assault case in which a high school student in Waukesha County posed as a female online, obtained graphic pictures from his male classmates and used them to extort sexual acts.
But Chief Justice Pat Roggensack questioned whether releasing it could re-victimize the men, who aren’t named in the video, because of how many details are discussed. Bauer said he would not object to redacting the one detail that hasn’t been made public, and DOJ attorneys also have said they would be open to releasing the tapes with portions edited out.
A state appeals court ruled last year that the videos must be made public under the state open records law, saying there was no compelling reason to keep them secret. The ruling affirmed one made in 2014 by a Dane County circuit judge. Both lower courts said the content of the tapes was routine and there was no danger that law enforcement tactics or victims’ privacy would be compromised in releasing them.
Court: State doesn’t have to pay for man’s master’s degree
A Wisconsin appeals court says the state Department of Workforce Development doesn’t have to pay for a man’s master’s degree.
The case centers on Michael Morgan, a disabled man who receives help through the DWD’s vocational rehabilitation programs to reach employment goals. DWD paid for his bachelor’s degree and other benefits in 2013 and 2014 to help him become a drug counselor.
In January 2014 he asked DWD to fund his master’s degree. The agency refused and a Milwaukee judge upheld that decision.
The 1st District Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling Wednesday, finding Morgan wanted to become a counselor, DWD agreed to pay for his bachelor’s degree and he can get a counseling job with that degree.
Lawyer who took money from client gets OK to resume practice
The Iowa Supreme Court has decided to let an attorney who took more than $99,000 from a client resume practicing law.
The Des Moines Register reports that the justices ruled unanimously to reinstate Michael Reilly’s law license. The court ruling released Friday said Reilly had worked hard to overcome a gambling addiction that led to the theft. Several western Iowa lawyers had written letters vouching for his character.
Reilly lost his license in 2006 after authorities learned that Reilly had taken settlement money given a family he’d represented in a lawsuit over an injury to a young boy.
Before he can practice law again, Reilly will have to finish 30 hours of continuing legal education and pass an ethics exam.