Judge dismisses spat over subpoenas in Ohio pot issue probe

marijuana legalization youngstown ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a dispute over subpoenas issued as part of an investigation by Ohio’s elections chief into a marijuana legalization effort.

The case stems from a review brought by Secretary of State Jon Husted into the ResponsibleOhio campaign. The group sought to have voters legalize both medical and recreational marijuana through a ballot initiative, known as Issue 3. The proposal failed to pass in November.

Husted, a Republican, asked a special investigator in late July to review why significant numbers of petition signatures collected by ResponsibleOhio were invalid and some paper forms didn’t match electronic copies. If such discrepancies are a product of fraud, they are subject to criminal penalties up to a fifth-degree felony.

ResponsibleOhio’s executive director, Ian James, was subpoenaed in the probe, along with his consulting firm. He’s called the investigation “a witch hunt.”

The subpoenas prompted a federal lawsuit in September from two people identified as John Doe and John Doe Two, who support of pot legalization.

The Does claimed the subpoenas create a “chilling effect” and violate the First Amendment and privacy rights of people who back the proposal. They asked the court to block the disclosure of records to the government that could contain theirs and others’ private political speech and beliefs.

Husted later withdrew the subpoenas and reissued new ones.

Judge Susan Dlott dismissed the Does’ lawsuit on Tuesday, saying she’d been told the matter has been settled.

Attorney Jennifer Kinsley, who represents the Does, said the scope of the updated subpoenas is “sufficiently narrow” to protect her clients’ rights.

In an email Tuesday, Kinsley expressed confidence that Husted “will enforce the subpoena in a manner which protects the first amendment rights of those individuals who were not employed by ResponsibleOhio to gather signatures for the ballot initiative, but who were merely exercising their rights of free speech and association during the campaign.”

Husted’s office said Tuesday that the dismissal helps clear the way for the subpoenas to be enforced.

The state’s elections chief has asked the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to enforce his subpoenas. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 22.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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