LINCOLN — A new group has formed to raise funds for individuals sued recently by the ACLU over Nebraska’s death penalty.
Called the Nebraska Death Penalty Legal Defense Fund, it sent out fundraising emails Friday signed by former speaker of the Legislature and ex-state senator Mike Flood. The letter asks for donations of as little as $5 or $10 to help defray legal costs for the individuals sued.
“We can’t allow the ACLU’s frivolous litigation to use the courts to overturn the will of Nebraskans,” stated the fundraising letter, signed by Flood, a leading advocate of capital punishment.
On Dec. 4, the ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit claiming that Gov. Pete Ricketts exceeded his powers in leading a referendum drive last year that reversed the State Legislature’s repeal of the death penalty.
The lawsuit also maintained that the 2016 vote only restored the death penalty for future murder cases, and that the sentences for occupants of the state’s death row have been converted to life in prison.
The lawsuit not only named the State Department of Corrections, Corrections Director Scott Frakes and Attorney General Doug Peterson as defendants, but five others in their “individual capacity,” including the governor and State Treasurer Don Stenberg, who is also a death penalty supporter.
Flood said that the money raised by the defense fund will be used to defray legal costs of those defendants who had to hire attorneys privately.
Ricketts hired Omaha attorney Bart McLeay, while Stenberg and defendants Judy Glassburner, Aimee Melton and Bob Evnen, who co-sponsored the pro-death penalty referendum drive, are represented by Lincoln lawyer J.L. Spray.
All of the individual defendants, as well as the state defendants, have asked to be dismissed from the case. Lancaster County Judge John Colburn has scheduled a hearing on the dismissal motions for 1 p.m. on Jan. 5.
Spray said that such legal defense funds do not have to register as a political campaign group. The address listed for the new organization is that of Chris Peterson, who worked for Ricketts in his 2014 gubernatorial campaign and was spokesman for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, the group that coordinated the referendum drive in 2016.
Among the claims by the ACLU is that the governor’s power to thwart the repeal of the death penalty ended when he vetoed the Legislature’s action in 2015. State lawmakers then overrode Rickett’s veto, thus repealing the death penalty.
The ACLU says Ricketts exceeded his powers by, in effect, becoming a legislator by leading and directing the referendum that restored capital punishment. Ricketts was one of the leading financers of the referendum, but has denied that he directed the campaign.