ND Supreme Court Justice Dale Sandstrom Calls Marsy’s Law “a Hobby Farm for an Eccentric Billionaire”

North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Dale Sandstrom listens to oral arguments Tuesday Oct. 30, 2012 in the Baker Courtroom at the University of North Dakota Law School. John Stennes / Forum News Service

North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Dale Sandstrom will be stepping down at the end of his current term, to be replaced by either Judge Jerod Tufte or Bismarck attorney Robert Bolinske who are competing on the November ballot.

Yesterday he spoke to the Cass County Bar Association and a SAB reader in attendance tipped me off that Sandstrom had some choice words for Measure 3, or Marsy’s Law.

A sitting justice speaking out about a ballot measure which has roiled North Dakota’s legal community seemed worth checking out, so I contacted Sandstrom and he confirmed the comments to me.

“…I’m concerned that a lot of scarce legal resources will be consumed trying to figure out what the measure means and perhaps having to defend it in federal court.”

“The North Dakota Constitution should not be a hobby farm for an eccentric California billionaire,” he told me in an email.

“Even for $2½ million dollars he should not be able to get the name of his deceased sister Marsy in the North Dakota Constitution, but under the measure he would,” he continued. “And I’m concerned that a lot of scarce legal resources will be consumed trying to figure out what the measure means and perhaps having to defend it in federal court.”

Marsy’s Law has seen exclusive financial backing from California tech billionaire Henry Nicholas. His sister was stalked and then murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A tragic story to be sure, and the amendment is supported by other victims and their families. But North Dakota’s legal community is heavily opposed to the measure.

The North Dakota Victim’s Assistance AssociationCAWS North Dakota, the North Dakota Women’s Network, the North Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the North Dakota State’s Attorneys’ Association, the North Dakota Trial Lawyers, the First Nations Womens Alliance, and most recently the North Dakota Fraternal Order of Police all oppose it.

It seemed a bit unusual to me that a sitting state Supreme Court justice would speak out on a political issue like this. But North Dakota’s Code of Judicial Conduct says this: “a judge or judicial candidate shall not…with respect to cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the court, make pledges, promises, or commitments that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative duties of the office.”

With Sandstrom having already given up another term on the Supreme Court he won’t be in a position to preside over any cases involving Marsy’s Law should voters make the mistake of approving it.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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