SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The same taxpayers who voted to legalize recreational marijuana in South Dakota are now paying to fight it in the state’s highest court.
Fifty-four percent of South Dakota voters approved Amendment A in the November election, but Governor Kristi Noem is adamantly against it. Her highway patrol superintendent Col. Rick Miller brought the lawsuit against the amendment.
A circuit court judge ruled that Amendment A violated the state constitution in February. Now, at the end of this month it heads to the state’s highest court.
When Amendment A was first argued in circuit court, South Dakota taxpayers were funding both sides of the legal battle.
The state Attorney General’s office was defending the new law approved by voters, while the Redstone Law Firm, a group of private attorneys out of Sioux Falls, argued the case on behalf of Col. Miller.
Ian Fury, Governor Kristi Noem’s communications director, says the Redstone Law firm will be paid out of the state’s Extraordinary Litigation Fund. Governor Noem’s 2021 Budget recommended adding $800,000 to the ELF from the state’s general fund. Another $400,000 was added in the 2022 budget.
Three Red Stone attorneys are now working to build the supreme court case.
Fury says the state has not yet received a bill for any of the hours the private law firm has spent on the Amendment A case.
“Preparing for the argument is the last step in the process after you’ve done all of the brief writing. The writing and the understanding of the issues really takes a lot more of the time than actually preparing for the argument in front of the justices,” Sioux Falls attorney Clint Sargent said.
Sargent has argued many cases in the state’s supreme court. He says there are too many variables to accurately estimate how many hours a law firm might spend on any given Supreme Court case, but preparing the briefs and paperwork take the most billable time.
The Red Stone law firm has already filed dozens of pages of court documents to the state supreme court.
Now comes the time to prepare their 20 minutes of oral arguments on April 28th.
“When you’re preparing for a supreme court argument, what most lawyers are hoping for is that the justices ask them questions. You’re actually trying to prepare for what may be unexpected,” Sargent said.
Preparation time adding to the bill for South Dakota taxpayers.
The attorney general’s office is not involved in the supreme court appeal. Chief of Staff Tim Bormann says the Attorney General’s office did not track the hours spent defending Amendment A in circuit court.
Attorneys representing South Dakotans for Better Marijuana laws worked with the Attorney General’s office in the circuit court case. The nonprofit organization has already spent more than $100,000 defending the voter-approved amendment in court.
“The final bill will be hundreds of thousands of dollars. In order to defend the will of the people, we’ve been working very hard to fundraise,” Matthew Schweich, the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation Deputy Director said. “Unlike Governor Noem, we don’t have a blank check from South Dakota taxpayers to fund our political activities.”