BISMARCK (AP) - Supporters of a failed campaign to abolish North Dakota property taxes say a judge is trampling their free-speech rights by ordering them to apologize to their opponents.
The supporters plan to make the argument in a court filing Monday. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the filing in advance.
During the campaign, property tax critics, who formed a loosely knit organization called Empower the Taxpayer, sued several state and county officials, claiming they made false statements about the impact of a ballot measure that sought to abolish property taxes.
The measure was overwhelmingly defeated at the polls in June. Afterward, South Central District Judge Bruce Romanick, who dismissed the original lawsuit, ordered the property tax critics to publish an apology in North Dakota newspapers at their own expense.
Romanick also ordered the anti-property tax activists to pay almost $26,000 in legal fees spent defending the state and local officials.
Monday's court filing said Romanick did not have authority to require an apology.
"This court has no more right to require a citizen to speak or retract a statement that public officials are presenting false information than it has to issue a prior restraint on any such statements," said the filing, written by Bismarck attorney Lynn Boughey. "If these public officials believe that the statements made by Empower the Taxpayer - either verbal or written - are slanderous and libelous, they are free to hire their own lawyer and proceed accordingly."
The filing was planned as part of a request that Romanick reconsider his earlier decision, which was issued in August. The filing also argues Empower the Taxpayer should have to pay no more than $300 in legal fees.