BISMARCK – A California man bankrolling a national effort to expand the rights of crime victims and enshrine them in state constitutions has given more than $1 million to the North Dakota effort, supporters said Tuesday before turning in more than 44,000 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.
Organizers of Marsy’s Law for North Dakota need Secretary of State Al Jaeger to verify at least 26,904 signatures for the measure to land on the Nov. 8 ballot. They said they gathered signatures from across the state using 15 unpaid volunteers and 30 hired petition circulators who were paid a total of $218,750.
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The campaign’s sole contributor is California businessman Henry Nicholas, whose sister, Marsy Nicholas, was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Their mother was confronted by the accused killer in a grocery store a week later, not realizing he’d been released on bail.
Nicholas has contributed $1,052,666 to the North Dakota effort, of which $404,569 has been spent, according to figures provided by organizers Tuesday. The next campaign disclosure statements are due Friday.
Sponsoring committee chairwoman Kathleen Wrigley said the proposed constitutional protections mimic existing ones under state law.
“Marsy’s Law for North Dakota cannot, does not and will not ever diminish the rights of the accused criminal defendants,” said Wrigley, wife of Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley.
Both the North Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the North Dakota State’s Attorneys’ Association oppose the measure, saying existing protections adopted by lawmakers in 1987 and updated repeatedly since then are working and can be improved through the Legislature if needed.
Aaron Birst, executive director of the State’s Attorneys’ Association, said 70 of the group’s 130 members attended its winter meeting in January, “and everybody was vehemently opposed to it.”
“There was nothing the supporters said that caused that group to say this needs to be implemented,” he said.
The measure would strengthen victims’ rights as listed in current state law and add them to the state constitution, including the rights to be free from intimidation, to be heard in court proceedings and to be promptly notified when a defendant is released or escapes from custody.
California and Illinois currently have versions of Marsy’s Law in place, and Nicholas is also pushing for it in Hawaii, Nevada, South Dakota, Kentucky, Georgia and Montana, where it qualified for the November ballot last week.
Jaeger has until June 14 to decide whether the signatures are sufficient.