An activist group has filed a complaint against a Nebraska sheriff who sued to block a medical marijuana initiative from the state ballot last year, alleging that the legal fees paid for the lawsuit constitute an illegal gift to the law enforcement officer. John Cartier, an attorney for the group Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis, revealed on Monday that he has asked the state’s Accountability and Disclosure Commission to review if the sheriff is required to reveal the source of the funding under state law.
“In this case, the payment of Mr. Wagner’s legal fees is a gift that must be disclosed under Nebraska election law,” Cartier said in a statement.
Medical Marijuana Initiative Blocked From 2020 BallotIn July 2020, supporters of the initiative, the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Constitutional Amendment (NMCCA), submitted more than 182,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the state ballot. The following month, Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen determined that the initiative had received enough valid signatures and had met the legal requirements to appear on the ballot for last year’s general election.
However, Evnen’s decision was challenged by Lancaster County, Nebraska Sheriff Terry Wagner, who filed a lawsuit to block the initiative from appearing on the ballot on the grounds that it contained misleading language and failed to meet requirements that initiatives pertain to a single subject.
The legal challenge was upheld by a vote of 5 to 2 by the Nebraska Supreme Court, which ruled in September that provisions of the initiative that provided for retail sales, home cultivation, and other issues were not sufficiently connected to legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis. The court wrote in the split decision that the initiative violated constitutional requirements that initiatives be limited to a single subject and ordered the measure stripped from the ballot.
“If voters are to intelligently adopt a State policy with regard to medicinal cannabis use, they must first be allowed to decide that issue alone, unencumbered by other subjects,” the court wrote in its conclusion. “As proposed, the NMCCA contains more than one subject—by our count, it contains at least eight subjects.”
“We reverse the Secretary of State’s decision and issue a writ of mandamus directing him to withhold the initiative from the November 2020 general election ballot,” the opinion states.
Nebraska Sheriff Unaware Who Paid For LawsuitAfter the court’s decision, Wagner said that despite his name being listed as the plaintiff, he was unaware of the source of financing for the legal action.
“I do not know,” Wagner said. “All I know is that no tax dollars were used in that litigation.”
The Nebraska sheriff said that he signed on as the plaintiff for the lawsuit after attorney Mark Fahleson “brought to my attention that it didn’t appear that the ballot language met the constitutional muster for single issues.” Fahleson has also refused to disclose who is paying the legal fees, citing attorney-client privilege.
Under Nebraska law, elected officials must report any gift with a value of $100 or more on a Statement of Interests, which is filed annually with state election officials. Cartier alleged in his complaint that Wagner knowingly signed such a statement without properly disclosing the legal fees as a gift, a failure which could be charged as a felony under state law.
After Cartier announced on Monday that he had filed the complaint against Wagner with state officials, Trish Peterson, the executive director of Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis, said “hundreds of thousands” of people in the state are still upset at the lawsuit that blocked the initiative from the ballot.
“We are not going to rest until justice has been served on the sheriff,” Peterson said. “No one is above the law, not even him.”
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