Article Published: 02/21/06, 2:55 am
Backers of the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law are striking back at the South Dakota Legislature after it went on record opposing the measure that will be on the November ballot.
Proponents say the amendment will make the judicial branch of state government "answerable and accountable to no entity other than itself. The entity that this amendment creates is a Special Grand Jury, composed of ordinary South Dakota citizens who are empowered to hear complaints of judicial misconduct," says amendment sponsor Bill Stegmeier of Tea.
But legislators have been sharp in their criticism and argue there is more than meets the eye, and the effect would be more far-reaching.
State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, called the proponents a "posse comitatus nut group" during a speech in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
Legislators also are critical of the measure because it is being brought by out-of-state interests.
However, some proponents suggest legislative unrest is a sign that the group is onto something.
"The vehemence by which the system is combating J.A.I.L., (Amendment E), is indicative of their worst fears come true. The system already knows that they are in big trouble in the polls, and they have to pull out the stops in an all-out attempt to scare the voters of South Dakota," said Ron Branson, a California minister.
"There is a proverb, 'He that diggeth a pit shall fall therein,' and this is precisely what our opposition is doing in South Dakota. The publicity taking place there is catching the eye of the entire nation from sea to shining sea," Branson writes.
The topic got more attention from Pam Smith, a reporter for a California publication, The Recorder, who covers the J.A.I.L. measure.
A recent article written by Smith provides more background.
Smith writes: "A feed-machine businessman (BIll Stegmeier) from South Dakota, where the population is roughly 1/50th of California's, has enthusiastically taken up their cause, and is sponsoring a J.A.I.L. initiative there. In December, a petition drive funded by about $140,000 of William Stegmeier's money gathered enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot."
Supporters, Branson and Gary Zerman, a California lawyer, hope a win in South Dakota will create enough momentum to propel them into other states.
That's also the concern for lawyers and judges who argue a law such as J.A.I.L. would be both unfeasible and philosophically dangerous, Smith wrote.
Backers of the amendment planned to put the proposal on the California ballot, but it required too many signatures to be successful, Smith said.
Branson describes South Dakota as "initiative-friendly," and he has an eye on other states such as Nevada where he might present the measure.
"I'm gambling on the idea that if we prevail in South Dakota, we'll have the attention of so many news sources, and so many money sources will come to us," he figures.
"Success breeds success," Branson told Smith.
David Kranz's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Write to him at the Argus Leader, Box 5034, Sioux Falls, SD 57117-5034.