Judge Sets Sept. Hearing for Janklow
Rep. Bill Janklow (R) made his initial appearance in a Moody County, S.D., courtroom Tuesday afternoon to face manslaughter charges in connection with an Aug. 16 fatal auto accident.
Circuit Judge Rodney Steele let the former four-term governor remain free on a personal recognizance bond until his Sept. 25-26 preliminary hearing, which will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial.
The popular politician was charged Friday with second-degree manslaughter, which is a felony, and three misdemeanors: reckless driving, running a stop sign and speeding. The collision left motorcyclist Randy Scott of Hardwick, Minn., dead.
Janklow, who fractured his hand and hurt his head during the crash, appears to still be recovering from his injuries, as, according to The Associated Press, he needed assistance in ascending the courthouse steps Tuesday.
If convicted, Janklow faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine on the manslaughter charge. Additionally, the misdemeanors carry a combined maximum penalty of $1,400 and 14 months in jail.
As legal proceedings move forward in South Dakota, Capitol Hill lawmakers treaded lightly around the case as they returned to Washington on Tuesday.
“This is a tragic situation for all involved,” Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said. “Now that charges have been filed and this matter is before the South Dakota legal system, I will make no comment regarding the case, its proceedings or the political ramifications of this matter. … My energy and attention will remain focused on legislative issues before the United States Senate.”
A spokesman for Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) would say only that most House Members, including DeLay, had yet to return but that the accident was a tragedy.
Police allege that the 63-year-old Janklow was driving 71 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone when he ran a stop sign at an intersection near the small town of Trent, S.D., crashing the borrowed Cadillac he was driving into the 55-year-old Scott’s Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Scott died at the scene.
Several South Dakota newspapers have reported that Janklow has a history of speeding.
According to the AP, Janklow did not speak at the brief appearance, during which his attorney requested the preliminary hearing.
The case is being heard in Flandreau, the county seat and Janklow’s hometown.
While Janklow’s Capitol Hill colleagues have not speculated about his political future, it would be difficult for him to remain in Congress if convicted.
The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct would investigate and mete out punishment, and he could be barred from voting on the House floor.
In a poll conducted last week and published in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 57 percent of South Dakotans said Janklow should not immediately resign, but 50 percent say he should if convicted. The poll had a 5 percent margin of error.
While Washington was silent, state politicos have begun floating names to replace Janklow should he resign. A special election would be held within 90 days of such a declaration.
So far Democrats are putting forward just one name: Stephanie Herseth, who lost to Janklow 53 percent to 46 percent last fall.
On Sunday the Argus Leader listed eight Republicans who might line up for the opportunity to succeed Janklow, most notably former Rep. John Thune, who held the seat until unsuccessfully challenging Johnson in 2002.
Thune was widely seen as the party’s top choice to take on Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in his re-election bid next year, but Janklow’s accident could alter his plans.
Also listed were Mark Mickelson, 37, a lawyer and accountant who has never sought public office but owns a political heritage. He is the son of the late Gov. George S. Mickelson (R) and grandson of the late Gov. George T. Mickelson (R).
State Sen. Larry Diedrich, 46, and former state Sen. Barb Everist, 54, are also potential candidates.
Everist told the paper Friday: “I just think it’s way too early to speculate on that,” in regard to throwing her hat in the ring.
Several other Republicans mentioned — including state House Majority Leader Bill Peterson — echoed her sentiment, while former Sioux Falls Mayor Gary Hanson said he does not consider himself a potential candidate.
Neither Janklow nor his attorney Ed Evans returned calls. Moody County State’s Attorney Bill Ellingson also did not return a call or e-mail.