Event organizer seeks dismissal of state’s case
Consumer case takes new direction with new legal representation
A Minot event organizer who is under investigation by the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office cites her Fifth Amendment right in asking a judge to dismiss the state’s demand that she produce information.
Upon the advice of new counsel, Terpsehore Maras Lindeman now declines to respond to any questions posed by the Attorney General based on her right to avoid self-incrimination. In seeking dismissal or indefinite suspension of the state’s case, she argues the court may not abridge her Fifth Amendment right by sanctioning her with a contempt of court ruling.
Parrell Grossman, an attorney and director of the consumer protection division within the Attorney General’s Office, responded that neither dismissal nor a stay is supported by law or facts.
“It mostly is posturing and complaining about what the Court has already determined or ruled on and provides almost no law in support of Ms. Lindeman’s claims,” he said in a email Tuesday. “We do not believe the law supports the ability to refuse to produce documents or provide answers to certain questions in a civil proceeding that may not be incriminating.”
The Attorney General’s Office began a consumer fraud investigation into Lindeman’s efforts to organize A Magic City Christmas last December, shortly before the event was canceled. The office has argued Lindeman should have registered as a charitable fundraiser and has pursued specific information from Lindeman that led to a court case in January. North Central District Court Judge Doug Mattson has ordered Lindeman to produce information and in August found her in contempt for failing to do so.
Lindeman’s latest court filing on Monday accuses the Attorney General’s Office of “vigorously pursuing a vindictive exercise” against her as a Republican critic of Republican Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
“Frankly, if they wanted more information, they could have brought Tore in to testify. We concluded that wasn’t the purpose of this,” her attorney David Clark Thompson of Grand Forks said Monday. “This was an extreme and highly abusive civil prosecution of Tore Lindeman as a retaliation for her writing critically about Stenehjem.”
Thompson, who is the Democratic-NPL candidate for Attorney General, also said Stenehjem’s office has had access to the information being sought, having obtained it inappropriately through administrative subpoenas to Lindeman’s bank, university and others. In issuing the subpoenas, the Attorney General warned the entities not to tell Lindeman her information was being disclosed, he said.
“That told us just how far they have gone secretly with administrative subpoenas. The power to issue an administrative subpoena is a very strong power. By abusing it, that’s a weaponizing of his office,” Thompson said.
Administrative subpoenas can be issued without a judge’s signature.
Grossman said the Attorney General’s lawful administrative subpoenas are being mischaracterized as “secret subpoenas.”
“These standard investigative subpoenas are regularly issued in many investigations and there is not any requirement to notify a target in a law enforcement investigation,” he said.
Grossman added the information obtained by the subpoenas has not been as complete as the Attorney General’s Office requires. The office still seeks signed entertainer contracts, receipts from donors and financial records, which are believed to exist beyond those received from the one bank subpoenaed, he said.
Grossman also said the Attorney General’s Office was unaware of Lindeman’s claim to be an investigative journalist until well after the initiation of the investigation and the filing of the legal case. The retaliation claim isn’t new, but the reported reason for the retaliation keeps changing or being added to by Lindeman, he said.
Thompson said the Attorney General’s staff has displayed hysteria and panic in court and public comments regarding the case, while spending excessive taxpayer dollars on what would be a Class A misdemeanor if charged and proven.
Through the subpoenas, he said, “They know that nobody has lost any money over this.”
“This entire case is about damaging Tore’s credibility,” Thompson said. “That’s a logical inference that can be drawn from this ‘missile trying to kill a fly.’ It’s way out of proportion, even if you assume she should have registered, which we don’t necessarily agree with.”
Grossman responded the case involves evidence of illegal conduct that regularly is addressed by the Attorney General’s routine enforcement of the consumer fraud and charitable solicitation laws.
In July, the Attorney General’s Office filed an additional case against Lindeman, accusing her of failing to register as a charitable organization or professional fundraiser and using deceptive practices in advertising and fundraising. The state seeks civil penalties and attorney fees. Lindeman has denied the allegations, and a hearing date has been set for Jan. 7.