TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Common Sense and Legislative Nonsense

Throughout my 45 years in the judiciary, my focus was on finding ways to deal with drunk drivers, underaged drinkers and those who provide alcohol to minors. Those years made a difference within Fargo, but they did not resonate so well outside of our area … because many rural legislators were opposed to taking any action.

Judges, too, had differing opinions on how matters in these areas should be handled. In North Dakota, the problem was especially complicated. If someone charged with a crime had a case in Municipal Court but concluded he might get a lesser penalty in District Court, he could simply request a transfer … and his case would leave Municipal for District Court.

There were other reasons for transfer to another court, of course. Far be it for me to complain about the process — although I never liked it.

In Minnesota, some legislators now want to lower the legal age for alcohol consumption by youth from 21 to 19 years. Others want to keep the bars open until 4 a.m. Reducing the age of consumption for minors is as stupid as increasing the hours of sale. If you have the brains that God gave a goat, you can reasonably conclude that with the alcohol-related problems this country faces, making more alcohol available for longer hours to younger people makes no sense at all.

In North Dakota, some legislators have wanted to increase penalties for delivery to a minor and for driving under the influence. It’s my understanding both have failed. The clamor for increased penalties ignores one basic fact: Judges have authority to increase the so-called “normal” penalties right now, without any change in the law. Few charges are filed for delivery to minors, and the courts don’t begin to use the sentencing authority they already have.

Early in my judicial career, the mother of two hockey players hosted a party where alcohol was consumed by minors. It was in her home, and she provided it. When I asked for a sentencing recommendation, the lawyers thought a $300 fine would be appropriate. No jail time was recommended because she was a parent.

I imposed a 30-day jail sentence for that first-time offense and didn’t lose one minute of sleep over it. Too many parents have been given a free ride by not being charged for providing alcohol to minors because no one wants to implicate their friends’ parents. To this day, I don’t understand why law enforcement and prosecutors don’t jump on this activity. With all the problems with booze, John Law could do a lot more than has been done so far. But then, again, we don’t have sufficient law enforcement numbers to pursue greater enforcement. That falls on the legislatures and city governments.

If I knew of parents who were doing this, you can bet the farm the Law did, too. In that event, you must draw your own conclusions — priorities vs. personnel issues.

* * *

North Dakota’s budget contained a provision that would eliminate wage increases for certain state employees and then require them to pay 5 percent of their health insurance premiums. That would mean their pay would be reduced by roughly $50 per month or $600 per year. Excuse me, but bandying around our city, county, state and federal employees is just not right. Those dedicated folks work very hard. They’re just an easy target for those who look for ways to cut costs.

Thankfully, the insurance proposal did not pass. I wonder if it was for the right reason — the value of state employees — or the wrong reason, that state legislators would also face the same decrease. You be the judge.

* * *

On the national stage, we’ve been hearing much discussion of two regulations, the Logan Act (Sec. 953) and the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution. Most folks have no idea what each says, so I’m including them here.

  • Logan Act, Section 953. Private correspondence with foreign governments: “Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both. This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply himself, or his agent, to any foreign government, or the agents thereof, for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.”

The emoluments clause, 49 words in Article I of the Constitution: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

So what is an “emolument” Here’s how Webster’s defines it: “the returns arising from office or employment, usually in the form of compensation or perquisites.”

In my opinion, the Logan Act should be used. It definitely prohibits the president from accepting any gifts or financial benefits because of the office he holds. He owns his Florida country club, where he conducts governmental affairs. People pay for the privilege of being there, and he receives. This clause is being violated, and lawsuits are pending.

Violations of the Logan Act and the emoluments clause are not Republican or Democratic issues. They are American issues. We all should be concerned.

* * *

Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn would be well-advised to do more research and less talking about his anti-refugee concerns. First, he could have privately taken his questions to Lutheran Social Services and the city employees, who’ve had firsthand knowledge of the facts all along, and avoided feeding into fears about refugee resettlement here.

But political grandstanding is now the norm and not the exception. Piepkorn continues to complain of refugee crime … notwithstanding the public statements by the Fargo Police Department that offenses by refugees are no more than those within the general population.

His claim that the refugees are a burden on our community is just pure BS. Statistics provided by the New American Economy as far back as last Oct. 20 show these facts: In 2014, foreign-born residents contributed $542.8 million to the area’s GDP, including $13.8 million in state and local taxes. The group also added $149.4 million in spending power to our economy.

The same report established that refugees have a higher level of education attainment than native-born citizens. Refugee students supported 343 local jobs and contributed $36.5 million in spending for the academic year. The full report is available at renewoureconomy.org/press.

The bottom line is clear. Immigrants and refugees are an essential part of our community. They contribute substantially to our economy. Furthermore, they are our neighbors and our friends. They should not be the subject of endless, mindless fear-mongering. Amen.

2 thoughts on “TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Common Sense and Legislative Nonsense”

  • Diana Esta Green February 22, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Thank you for explaining what part of the Constitution is being violated by Trump and having relations with a foreign power. Well written piece.

    1. Thomas A. Davies February 23, 2017 at 11:39 am

      Thank you.


Leave a Reply