Profs: System worked in Janklow's court case by David Lias Two leading political science professors at The University of South Dakota indicated late Monday that resignation may be the best route for Congressman William Janklow.
He didn't seek their advice, but it turns out that later that evening Janklow followed it.
A Moody County jury on Monday convicted Janklow of second-degree manslaughter and three misdemeanors for his involvement in a traffic crash that killed Randy Scott, of Hardwick, MN.
The felony conviction would have prevented Janklow from carrying out his congressional duties.
After the news broke that Janklow had been convicted on all counts, the Plain Talk contacted William D. Richardson, chairman of the political science department at USD, and Elizabeth Smith, an associate professor of political science at the university.
Both indicated that further pitfalls would await Janklow if he decided to stay in office.
"We still don't know what the sentence will be � that will come down the road," Richardson said, "but that triggers a number of difficult situations in the House, including the famous language that a individual convicted of a crime that carries more than two years in prison is to refrain from voting. On the surface, that would appear to have limited his effectiveness as a congressman."
Janklow later announced he will resign as of Jan. 20, the day is scheduled to be sentenced.
The House of Representatives, Smith said, has certain rules it must follow when one of its members suffers legal problems similar to Janklow's.
"Not only does Congressman Janklow have problems in terms of whatever sentence he is meted out, but he is also going to have to face the House of Representatives," Smith said before news of his resignation was announced. "When a member has been convicted of a crime, he loses his voting privileges pending the investigation and adjudication by the ethics committee."
The committee's rules provide that in cases where members of Congress have been convicted of a felony, the committee has automatic jurisdiction.
"It's not will they � it's they
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will look into this," Smith said if Janklow had decided to stay in office.
She noted there have only been four members of Congress expelled in its history. Three of those were members who were removed from office for disloyalty to the Union at the time of the Civil War.
"The reason there are very, very few expulsions is that when things like this happen, for the most part members of Congress just resign rather than face disciplinary proceedings in the House," Smith said.
Richardson said that immediately after the Moody County jury handed down its verdict, Janklow's political future was still in his hands.
The freshman congressman could have announced that he would finish his term and not seek re-election, Richardson said. He could announce he would seek re-election, or he could resign.
If Janklow had decided to stay in office after the jury's conviction, Smith said, "there would be a grim road ahead of him.
"He may very well be sentenced to prison, at which point it would seem almost inconceivable that he could remain in office," Smith said. "It would be a rather grim road, and very unpleasant."
The jury's verdict, Richardson said, has greatly changed the political landscape in South Dakota.
"Almost two generations have grown up with Janklow being the principal state political figure," he said.
The court decision, Smith said, has brought some relief to an atmosphere that was growing increasingly cynical.
"I think one of the messages that this outcome has for all of us is don't mistrust the government all of the time," Smith said. "I really do believe that most people who are involved in government are there for all of the right reasons."
The judge, jury and prosecutor all did credible jobs, she said, during the week-long trial.
"One of our faculty members went into his class this morning, and asked how many of his students thought Janklow was guilty," Richardson said. "Apparently all of them raised their hands. He then asked how many thought he would be convicted, and only one raised his hand. That tells you something about the undercurrent that you pick up anecdotally across the state � that's it's difficult for a powerful political figure to be convicted."
"I would argue that is a case where the system works," Smith said. "It makes one sad about the outcome, but it gives one the sense that justice was done."