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5 things to know today: Health info, Appeal complication, Lost job, Merger investigation, THC edibles

A select rundown of stories found on InForum.

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North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley speaks to reporters in his office on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.
Forum file photo
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1. North Dakota attorney general says doctors can use health info in defense of abortions, but questions remain

Medical providers who perform abortions can divulge patients' personal health information to avoid prosecution under North Dakota's pending abortion ban, according to an opinion from Attorney General Drew Wrigley.

North Dakota's abortion ban, still held up in a legal battle, would make performing an abortion a Class C felony. However, doctors may abort a pregnancy if the mother's life is in danger and in cases of rape or incest, though a provider may still have to prove in court the procedure was justified.

Democratic-NPL Reps. Karla Rose Hanson of Fargo and Zac Ista of Grand Forks asked Wrigley in August for an opinion addressing what they viewed as conflicts in state law that put pregnant women and medical providers in danger.

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The letter the lawmakers sent to the Republican attorney general asked him to weigh in on nine questions, including whether doctors could legally treat ectopic pregnancies and whether medical providers could be prosecuted for performing abortions in cases of rape or incest.

In his Tuesday, Nov. 15, opinion, Wrigley said he couldn't answer most of the questions posed by Hanson and Ista due to pending litigation surrounding the abortion ban. But Wrigley offered analysis on one query about disclosing private health information, saying "state and federal law do not preclude a defendant from disclosing a patient's (personal health information) in order to assert an affirmative defense."

Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley

2. Chad Isaak's suicide complicates appeal as North Dakota Supreme Court hears arguments

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Nicole Donaghy, left, with Native Vote organizers Lydale Yazzie and Elliot Bannister at a get-out-the-vote event in 2018. Photo courtesy of Nicole Donaghy
Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune

From The Bismarck Tribune via Forum News Service

Attorneys arguing the case of the late convicted quadruple murderer Chad Isaak disagreed Thursday on how the North Dakota Supreme Court should proceed with his appeal but agreed that the case could be breaking new ground in the state.

The central issue is whether Isaak's conviction for murdering four people at a Mandan business should be erased following his suicide at the State Penitentiary. Justices will rule later.

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A jury in August 2021 convicted Isaak on four counts of murder and other charges in the April 1, 2019, deaths of RJR Maintenance and Management co-owner Robert Fakler, 52; and employees Adam Fuehrer, 42; and married couple Bill Cobb, 50, and Lois Cobb, 45. Three of the victims were shot, and among the four they suffered more than 100 stab wounds, according to trial testimony. No motive was ever established.

South Central District Judge David Reich in December 2021 sentenced Isaak to four consecutive life sentences. Isaak's attorney last June asked the Supreme Court to grant him a new trial, citing several reasons. Isaak hanged himself in his prison cell on July 31, before the high court ruled on his appeal.

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3. Cass County deputy who ran against sheriff to lose job

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Mat King
Submitted Photo

A Cass County sheriff’s deputy who challenged his boss in this year’s election will lose his job.

Sheriff Jesse Jahner announced Thursday, Nov. 17, that Deputy Mathew King’s last day will be Dec. 31.

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King lost to Jahner in the Nov. 8 general election, only garnering about 20% of the vote while Jahner won with 80%. Jahner will begin his second term as sheriff in January.

King said he is considering another run against Jahner in the future.

Jahner said he has high expectations for his deputies, but he believes King doesn’t support the sheriff’s “mission, vision and values.”

“The Cass County Sheriff’s Office is fortunate to have some of the best men and women serving in all capacities of law enforcement in this region," Jahner said in a statement. "We will continue moving forward as an organization, serving the citizens of Cass County professionally, all the while providing a high level of public safety."

King told The Forum last week that the results of the election "are what they are."

He said he would like to keep his job and return to patrols, but that depends on what Jahner decides. The deputy was moved this spring to courthouse security duty.

Jahner and King did not return messages left by The Forum on Thursday.

Read more from The Forum's April Baumgarten

4. Minnesota attorney general’s office investigating proposed Sanford, Fairview merger

Sanford Medical Center is seen Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Sanford Medical Center is seen Nov. 28, 2017, in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office is investigating the proposed merger between Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services and its compliance with state laws governing charities and nonprofits.

Sanford and Fairview announced on Tuesday, Nov. 15, that they have signed a nonbinding letter of intent to explore a merger , with the goal of completing the transaction by the end of 2023.

The concerns expressed by the office of Attorney General Keith Ellison echo those cited by then-Attorney General Lori Swanson in 2013, when Sanford and Fairview explored a possible merger — a deal that was abandoned in the face of criticism by Minnesota officials.

"We are aware of the proposed merger between Fairview and Sanford,” John Stiles, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said in a statement. “We have opened an investigation into the proposed transaction’s compliance with charities and nonprofit laws. We are also evaluating any possible effects on competition along with state and federal partners."

The office declined to make further comments about the investigation.

In 2013, Swanson cited concerns that Fairview’s assets stemmed from tax breaks and donations from Minnesota and Minnesota residents helped to develop the health system, which includes M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center, a partnership that includes the University of Minnesota.

Read more from The Forum's Patrick Springer

5. THC edibles surge in Minnesota, but safety rules are loose, regulators aren’t ready

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A person holds gummies containing THC. Under the new law, no more than 0.3% of THC derived from hemp is allowed.
Courtesy Elsa Olofsson at CBD Oracle via Flickr

From MPR News via Forum News Service

Minnesota’s experiment legalizing synthetic-THC edibles was just two weeks away from launching this summer when a key state official confessed to her colleagues that no one really knew if the products about to hit Minnesota shelves were safe.

“We have essentially created an adult use market, with no licensing, less stringent testing and high public risk due to lack of compliance & enforcement capacity,” Chris Tholkes, director of medical cannabis at the Minnesota Department of Health, wrote in an internal email June 15.

“It’s really not known what is in these products and whether or not they are safe,” she noted in a second email.

Minnesota went ahead anyway, opening a market for gummies and drinks infused with THC — the compound that gives cannabis its high. The market has taken off since the law took effect July 1. Yet questions around exactly what’s in the products and who’s watching to make sure they’re safe have largely gone unanswered.

With little state oversight, experts say Minnesotans have no way to know precisely what’s in the edibles and drinks. Internal state emails obtained by MPR News show Minnesota officials shrugging off basic questions around the law just before it took effect.

The emails also show the law’s author, Minnesota House Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina, online during the early morning of July 1 floating ideas to state officials on how to change what, at that point, was an hours-old law.

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Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "staff." Often, the "staff" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.
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A select rundown of stories found on InForum.