Nebraskans for Public Safety is challenging the death penalty referendum petition in Lancaster County District Court.
The pro-repeal group filed a lawsuit Thursday saying Gov. Pete Ricketts and his supporters appeared to have cut corners and undermined the integrity of the referendum process.
That, said lead attorney Alan Peterson, should have legal consequences.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Lincoln residents and longtime death penalty opponents Christy and Richard Hargesheimer, outlined their belief that Ricketts is the "primary initiating force" behind the petition, and one of its sponsors.
Omitting his name from the list of sponsors is a critical error and renders the petition process invalid, they said. The statute that requires a list of all sponsors is among several intended to prevent fraud in the petition process, and the leaders violated it intentionally, they said.
Knowing he was a sponsor, organizer, early instigator, financier and in effect, the "boss" of the petition drive, would have influence, the complaint said -- for some in a positive way.
But others might decline to sign such a petition if they knew the governor was leading the way to stop a law 30 members of the Legislature had just chosen to pass over his veto.
Potential signers are entitled to know who is making the decisions and running the show, the complaint said.
Named in the lawsuit are Secretary of State John Gale, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty Inc., and Aimee Melton, Bob Evnen and Judy Glasburner, board members.
The complaint said Melton has said publicly she was recruited by someone "close to the governor" to put her name in as a sponsor.
Evnen, of Lincoln, said he wasn't surprised the lawsuit was filed. The people and the lawyers involved oppose the death penalty.
The legal team representing the Hargesheimers includes Peterson and attorneys Jerry Soucie, Amy Miller and Christopher Eickholt.
Nebraskans for the Death Penalty and its board members will be represented by lawyers Steve Grasz and J.L. Spray, Evnen said.
In the end, he said, the constitutional rights of Nebraska voters will be honored and the question will appear on the ballot.
"It does seem to me that the claim is thin," he said.
Ricketts is in China on a trade mission and chose not to comment at this time, according to his spokeswoman Brittany Hardin. Campaign co-manager Chris Peterson said the lawsuit reads like a political attack, "and is a desperate attempt to erase 166,000 petition signatures."
Source: Lincoln Journal Star, Joanne Young, September 17, 2015
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