Supreme Court delays victim right law

The Associated Press

The Montana Supreme Court issued a stay Friday on a voter-approved victim’s rights law from going into effect.

The state’s high court said there was good cause to delay the law, dubbed Marsy’s Law, from being implemented as scheduled on Saturday. The law sought to give crime victims and their families the right to participate in judicial proceedings and be notified of key developments in a case. It would also expand their privacy rights.

Voters approved the law as a constitutional amendment last fall, allowing Montana to become one of a handful of states to adopt the law.

The Montana Association of Counties, the American Civil Liberties Union and other critics filed suit earlier this month to block the law from going into effect, arguing that the initiative was wrongly presented to voters as a single measure. In light of the many changes it would make to the state constitution, they argued, that voters should have considered multiple measures.

In its order Friday, the state court appeared focused on deciding the matter quickly. It ordered interested parties to file written legal arguments over the next six weeks.

The Attorney General’s Office, which is defending the law on behalf of voters, said it supported the delay.

“As the Montana Supreme Court will decide this case in an expedited manner, it’s in the state’s best interest to put Marsy’s Law on pause until the outcome of the litigation is final. It makes little sense to require cities and counties across the state to expend resources on Marsy’s law implementation until the case against it is resolved,” said the agency’s spokesman, Eric Sell.

Advocates for the law said they would vigorously fight to uphold the will of voters, of which 65 percent voted in favor Marsy’s Law in November.

“Victims and criminal justice professionals have been anticipating and preparing for Marsy’s Law to go into effect tomorrow,” said Chuck Denowh, a spokesman for the Marsy’s Law campaign in Montana. “This delay will create much confusion and ultimately deprive victims of the rights that an overwhelming majority chose to provide.”

The law is named after Marsy Nicholas, a California college student who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Her brother, Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Nicholas, campaigned to pass Marsy’s Law first in California in 2008, then in the four other states and is now pushing to enact it in nine more.