PIERRE, S.D. – Former Rep. Bill Janklow, who resigned from Congress after being convicted in a deadly traffic accident, will have his law license reinstated next month, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The order said returning the license on Feb. 15 posed no public threat because Janklow's convictions were unrelated to the practice of law and did not involve fraud, deceit or dishonesty.
Janklow, a former four-term governor, was automatically suspended as a lawyer after a jury found him guilty in December 2003 of running a stop sign and killing motorcyclist Randy Scott, 55, in August 2003.
The Republican politician spent 100 days in jail, was put on probation and cannot drive during that time.
Thursday's 4-1 decision, made by a substitute panel of five circuit judges, followed a recommendation by the State Bar's Disciplinary Board. The judge who sentenced Janklow in the manslaughter trial had recommended waiting until Janklow's probation ends in January 2007.
Janklow, 66, declined to comment on the ruling when reached by telephone. "It wouldn't be appropriate for me to say anything when I haven't read it," he said.
At a Supreme Court hearing in October, he had asked that the law license be reinstated immediately.
"I can tell you that I'm sorry for what happened," Janklow said at the time.
The ruling — which came from a substitute panel because Janklow had a hand in appointments for all five high court justices — said Janklow "has had a long and distinguished career as an attorney."
"While there are public concerns regarding Janklow's driving, there was no evidence presented to suggest that the public needs protection from Janklow's conduct as an attorney," Judge Glen Severson wrote for the court.
The Bar's Disciplinary Board had found that Janklow's conduct reflected indifference to traffic laws and disregard for the results and risks of that behavior. But it also said he has a history of representing poor people and would continue to do so if allowed to resume work as a licensed lawyer.
The crash near Trent, north of Sioux Falls, ended Janklow's political career. He had dominated South Dakota politics for three decades, first as attorney general, then a four-term governor and finally the state's only U.S. House member.
Scott's motorcycle plowed into the side of Janklow's car as Janklow sped through a stop sign. Prosecutors said Janklow had a long habit of speeding, characterizing his driving as "awful and menacing."
The defense said Janklow, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 1998, did not stop or slow down because his judgment and driving skills were impaired by low blood sugar.