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Taxpayers Called Liable for Janklow's Civil Damages

A federal prosecutor says the former South Dakota congressman was on duty when his car collided with a motorcycle.

March 16, 2004|From Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Bill Janklow was on duty as South Dakota's congressman when his speeding car collided with a motorcycle last summer, meaning federal taxpayers would pay any civil damages arising from the fatal crash, a federal prosecutor has concluded.

U.S. Atty. Tom Heffelfinger's decision came in connection with a wrongful-death lawsuit filed against the former congressman and governor by the motorcyclist's family.

In concluding that Janklow was on duty at the time of the accident, Heffelfinger filed a notice Monday asking that the case be moved from state to federal court, and that the federal government be substituted as the defendant for Janklow.

Janklow was "acting within the scope of his employment as a member of the United States Congress at the time," Heffelfinger wrote. He would not comment further about his decision.

Randy Scott, of Hardwick, Minn., was killed Aug. 16 when his motorcycle collided with a car Janklow was driving. Janklow spoke earlier that day in Aberdeen and was returning to his home near Brandon when the accident occurred.

Lawyer Ronald Meshbesher, who represents the Scott family, said he would try to keep the case in state court where, unlike federal court, the family could win punitive damages.

"I'm not sure what duty he was doing for the taxpayers of the United States or the state of South Dakota by driving 80 mph through a stop sign," Meshbesher said. "And quite frankly, if he was politicking before it happened, I'm not sure that's considered to be on duty."

At Janklow's trial, a Highway Patrol accident specialist estimated Janklow's speed at 71 mph when he ran the stop sign.

Also Monday, the state Supreme Court rejected Janklow's request to be released from jail while he appeals his conviction. Janklow, 64, was convicted in December of second-degree manslaughter, reckless driving, speeding and running a stop sign. He is serving a 100-day jail sentence.

Janklow had argued that he should be released on bail because he otherwise would have served his entire sentence before a decision was made on his appeal. But the court said Janklow's appeal will still have meaning. His probation extends for three years, the court noted, and he could be sentenced to prison if he fails to comply with the probation terms.

Circuit Court judges heard his request after all five Supreme Court justices removed themselves from the case because Janklow appointed them when he was governor.

Janklow was a four-term Republican governor elected to the U.S. House in 2002. He resigned from Congress Jan. 20, ending a political career that began in the early 1970s when he was elected the state's attorney general.

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