Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Sometimes, it's hard to keep track of things from one year to the next.

Especially when it comes to legislation in Pierre. A virtual blizzard of bills are filed.

Some bills have merit. Others seem to be a waste of paper.

A House or Senate bill has to survive committee discussion, debate on the Senate and House floors, and escape the veto pen of the governor to become state law.

When you stop and think about it, state law is a lot like sausage. The final product is good, but you wouldn't necessarily want to have knowledge of all of the ingredients and processes required for a bill to become law.

It's this strenuous process that may make it too easy at times for legislators or other government officials to be reluctant to introduce legislation.

In recent weeks, however, it has become apparent that changes are needed in the way South Dakota supervises attorneys who are on the state payroll.

South Dakota Attorney General Mark Barnett has suspended two state prosecutors in connection with a plea bargain for Daren Olson, a former University of South Dakota police officer.

Olson was facing murder charges in connection with the October death of his 5-month-old daughter, Jordyn Nicole Olson.

Daren Olson's murder trial was scheduled to begin in Vermillion in early April. The case was to be prosecuted by Ron Campbell, and Gay Tollefson, another attorney for the Department of Social Services.

Now it appears that no trial will take place, and that Daren Olson has agreed to a plea bargain with a sentence of no more than 20 years.

That's not what Maria Olson wanted, however. According to reports that the Plain Talk confirmed with Bob Gray, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark Barnett, she wanted her ex-husband to serve at least 30 years in prison.

Gray confirmed that during a teleconference with Maria Olson, Campbell was insistent, and at times ranting and raving in favor of the 20-year sentence. He added that Campbell approved the lighter sentence without a required agreement from the attorney general.

To the best of our knowledge, this plea bargain will stick, unless a judge is swayed enough by Maria Olson's request and Campbell's bungling of this case to throw out the plea and start over.

We hope something is done, besides the mere suspension of two attorneys, to make things right. We aren't against plea bargains; we know they certainly save state, county and municipal governments millions of dollars in South Dakota.

The very atmosphere of the Olson plea bargain, however, indicates that it wasn't handled properly. The issue needs to be reviewed, and if necessary, the attorney general needs to step in as an advocate for Maria Olson.

We hope Barnett and our local lawmakers are also taking note of what's happened here in Vermillion recently, and come up with legislation that can help insure that something like this won't happen again.

A tidbit of information that surfaced after this latest twist to the Olson case was made aware to the public is rather shocking.

One would think that all of the attorneys employed by the state of South Dakota are under the direct supervision of Barnett, who is South Dakota's chief lawyer and law enforcement officer.

Guess what? They aren't. Campbell and Tollefson were attorneys for the state Department of Social Services. Barnett had to appoint them as assistant attorneys general for them to work as prosecutors on the Olson case.

And that, we know now, can lead to problems.

Barnett told the Associated Press that he filed a bill several years ago asking the Legislature to move lawyers for all state departments under his supervision, but it was defeated.

We know the process of successfully writing a bill, getting it through committee, and having it approved by the House, Senate and governor can be painstaking.

We believe Barnett's legislation should be pursued again, however, during next year's session.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>