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Judge questions whether lawmaker can push robo-call case in courts

SD robo-call case might go a different direction

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- A South Dakota state senator is considering filing a federal complaint against those who operated a robo-call campaign criticizing some Republican legislators last year.

Dakota Dunes lawmaker Dan Lederman has already filed a civil lawsuit in an effort to find out who backed the anonymous campaign that targeted some lawmakers for their votes on veterans' issues. Lederman's lawsuit also aims to clarify the bounds of election law for legislators subject to such campaigns and the citizens who might hear them.

State Circuit Court Judge Stuart Tiede questioned Monday whether anyone but the secretary of state or prosecutors can use the courts to enforce election law, the Argus Leader newspaper reported.

"This is not the attorney general bringing an action on behalf of the secretary of state to enforce campaign finance laws," Tiede said of Lederman's lawsuit. "This is a private individual, essentially becoming a private attorney general to enforce campaign finance laws."

Tiede did not immediately rule on a defense motion to dismiss the case.

Lederman's attorney, Joel Arends, said he might file a complaint under a federal act that restricts unsolicited telephone marketing calls and the use of automated and prerecorded telephone messages. The Federal Communications Commission can levy fines against anyone who violates the rules.

"We still believe that Lederman and (his political action committee) have standing in the case," Arends said. "The judge may not agree with that. We may not get a favorable ruling out of him this time. But ... we're moving in the direction of Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act violations."

R. Shawn Tornow, attorney for GOP activist Daniel Willard, a defendant in the civil case who also has been charged criminally, said he was "pleased the judge seemed to indicate that he, too, had significant concerns." But he added that he was "troubled" by the report that Lederman might file a new complaint.

"At what point do they stop chasing their own tail?" he said.

Willard is charged with a misdemeanor after his credit card information allegedly was linked to prepaid phone cards used in the calls. He has pleaded not guilty.