Bills takes aim at citizen-initiated grand juriesBISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A bill in the North Dakota House would change the process for citizen-initiated grand juries, a law few people were aware was on the books until Dunn County residents petitioned during last year's election campaign season to investigate the governor.
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A bill in the North Dakota House would change the process for citizen-initiated grand juries, a law few people were aware was on the books until Dunn County residents petitioned during last year's election campaign season to investigate the governor.
Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, the prime sponsor of the legislation, said he does not want to eliminate the ability of citizens to convene a grand jury but he wants to raise the bar by increasing the number of signatures required.
"I take the power of the grand jury very seriously, and in looking at the current law, I believe that there is a possibility for abuse of the grand jury function based upon ideology, political agenda and many, many other aspects of what people's viewpoints are," Kasper told The Forum newspaper.
His bill would require more citizen input to prevent abuse of the process for political purposes, Kasper said. The bill would require a number of signatures equal to at least 25 percent of the county's Census population, but not greater than 5,000 signatures. The current statute requires signatures from 10 percent of the number of voters in the most recent general election in the county.
A group of Dunn County residents late last year unsuccessfully sought a grand jury probe of Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple related to campaign contributions from oil companies that the group said could be considered bribery since Dalrymple sits on the state Industrial Commission, which regulates the oil industry. The governor's campaign called the petition baseless and politically motivated. A judge ultimately dismissed the case and the state Supreme Court last month rejected an appeal.
Kasper said his bill is not in response to that case, but Grand Forks attorney David Thompson, who drafted the Dunn County petition, said the Republican sponsors of the bill ought to be ashamed of themselves.
"This is obviously a cynical attempt to make it more difficult to have public officials investigated by citizen petitioned-for grand juries," Thompson said.
A second petition for a grand jury probe of Dalrymple has been circulating and is expected to be filed next week, according to Thompson. One of the circulators is Ellen Chaffee, the lieutenant governor candidate on the Democratic ticket last fall.