Lawyer says state hospital retaliating against sex offenders participating in federal lawsuit

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FARGO, North Dakota — A lawyer representing more than two-dozen sex offenders who have filed a lawsuit over treatment at the North Dakota State Hospital says it's retaliating against the plaintiffs by limiting their participation in the suit.

Christopher Brancart, the attorney for the plaintiffs, says some court documents have been confiscated from his clients as contraband. He has asked for a preliminary injunction that would allow his clients more access to legal papers and advice.

"Based on the evidence submitted to the court, there is good cause to issue an order enjoining (state hospital) staff from engaging in conduct that intimidates and retaliates against plaintiffs for participating in this action," Brancart wrote in a document filed last week.

The state says the claims are vague and any changes in hospital policy regarding the amount of paperwork and time for legal visits would jeopardize public safety.

Lawyers from both sides have declined to talk about the case while it's still open. A judge has not ruled on Brancart's request for an injunction.

The original complaint filed in February 2013 by three men incarcerated at the hospital and classified as sexually dangerous individuals accuses the facility of favoring unnecessary punishment over treatment and violates the rights of the plaintiffs by depriving them of a realistic opportunity to be released.

An amended complaint filed by Brancart, the Pescadero, California attorney, says North Dakota implemented "a policy of preventative detention" following calls for tougher laws against sex offenders after the 2003 kidnapping and killing of a University of North Dakota student by a convicted sex offender.

The North Dakota attorney general's office has said in court documents that there's no basis for a federal suit and any complaints should be heard in state court.

One of the plaintiffs, Darl Hehn, argued before the North Dakota Supreme Court earlier this month that the hospital has denied him sex offender treatment. The state countered that there's no evidence the hospital was negligent or that Hehn's constitutional rights were violated.

Justices said during Hehn's hearing that a lawsuit is likely the best way to address complaints about sex offender treatment.

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