The malaise continues. So, here’s a couple legal items of interest, most stemming from South Dakota as we seem to be stepping up interesting legal affairs here:
- As most have heard, former Gov. Bill Janklow is getting his law license back. I will simply say I agree with the majority opinion (PDF file) (five circuit court judges sat on the case as all the sitting Supreme Court members disqualified themselves) that the conviction and events giving rise to it do not reflect on Janklow’s ability to practice law or that allowing him to do so would adversely impact clients or the public. In fact, the public may be better served by Janklow doing pro bono or legal aid work as he did when he first became a lawyer.
- The tussle over the acting U.S. Attorney for South Dakota is interesting. According to court documents, the Justice Department asked U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol to reappoint Michelle Tapken as acting U.S. Attorney as her initial appointment was expiring. Piersol, chief judge at the time, advised the Justice Department he would not do so but intended to appoint former Republican state Attorney General Mark Meierhenry, which he did on Dec. 20 with the concurrence of the other two active district court judges in South Dakota. Two days later, Tapken resigned and the Justice Department asked a U.S. District Judge in Oklahoma to swear in Steven Mullins, a deputy U.S. Attorney there, as South Dakota’s interim U.S. Attorney. Piersol then notified the Justice Department that he thought the Mullins appointment was invalid. U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier, who became chief judge January 1, has now issued an order for Mullins to appear in court on January 17 and show cause why Meierhenry isn’t the acting U.S. Attorney. Is this some sort of internecine struggle between the judiciary and the Justice Department? Is this three Clinton appointees jabbing Sen. John Thune for failing to put forth a nomination for U.S. Attorney in the more than 10 months since former U.S. Attorney Jim McMahon resigned? And why is Thune taking so long? I have no particular insight but find the tussle fascinating.
- Back to the South Dakota Supremes. In addition to their action on Janklow, the Court handed down two lengthy decisions (PDF files) the same day upholding the death penalty for two men. It also issued an opinion (PDF file) in an interesting case allowing a Catholic church in Mitchell to tear down a nearly century old school building over the objection of historical preservationists. The Court did not reach the issue of whether a state statute dealing with historic preservation violated the federal Religious Land Use Act.
- With the Alito confirmation hearings coming up, SCOTUSBlog points to an interesting online discussion of what’s appropriate to ask at the confirmation hearings.
It is entirely possible that the purported appointment of Mr. Mullins is not valid and that he has no legal authority to act as the Acting U.S. Attorney in South Dakota.
U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann, January 3, 2006, memorandum