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Ask Our Lawyer - February 2006

They Still Don’t Get It!

Part I - Kill a biker, go back to work and be a lawyer

In a display of outrageous cowardice and inexplicable and insulting poor judgment, the South Dakota Supreme Court has decided to reinstate the law license of former Congressman Bill Janklow, who was convicted of felony manslaughter in the traffic death of a motorcyclist in 2003.

The state Supreme Court ordered on January 5 that Janklow get his law license back on February 15. Janklow, a former four-term South Dakota governor before he was elected the state's sole congressman, lost his right to practice law when he was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, reckless driving, speeding and failure to stop at a stop sign in the death of motorcyclist Randy Scott. Scott was killed in August 2003 when the car Janklow was driving ran a stop sign on a rural road in South Dakota at a speed estimated at about 70 mph, charging into the path of Scott's motorcycle.

As you will recall, in a previous display of outright contempt toward motorcyclists, Janklow could have faced up to 11 years in prison for the multiple charges. Instead, a South Dakota judge sentenced him to only 100 days. In addition, he paid fines and fees of $11,000, lost his law license, resigned from Congress, was put on probation and lost his driver's license for three years.

Adding insult to injury, another court ruled that Janklow could escape financial liability for Scott's death under a congressional immunity statute. Janklow said that he was returning home from an event related to his duties as a congressman at the time of the crash.

I know I speak for all of us when I express my shock, outrage and dismay that a convicted felon would be allowed to get his law license back and practice law – so soon after he killed one of us. It simply reinforces, once again, that there are few consequences for killing a biker. It’s a sad day for all of us. It’s also a good reminder of why we at ABATE exist. Democracy doesn’t work by itself. Sometimes we have to help, and that is what we are doing, and will continue to do.

Part II - Kill a biker, get a short sentence

In a horrible result for a distraught family, a recent case pointed out the need for either revision of the penalties for killing a motorist or the creation of sentence modifiers that would increase the sentence in a death case. In this case, a driver with a litany of suspensions and tickets struck and killed a biker. He had been drinking and was attempting to pass a line of cars on a two lane street when he stuck and killed Sherrie Trick.

While the prosecutor, defense attorney and judge all commented that the punishment didn’t fit the crime, the driver received eight years in prison, the maximum possible for the crime charged under Indiana law. With good behavior, he could be out of prison in four years. He pled guilty to two counts of driving while intoxicated resulting in death and one count of reckless homicide.

A pathetic, but all too common, result. In this case, the sentence was a result of a failure of the system itself. The prosecutor charged the maximum allowable crimes under current law, and the judge imposed the maximum sentence. Justice in these cases will not be served until the sentences allowed by law reflect the harm suffered by the victims and their families.

Making fun of lawyers

I am shocked and outraged. Who in the world could think these are funny:

Did you hear that Saddam Hussein took a hundred lawyers hostage and said that if his demands aren't met he'll start releasing them one by one?

Did you hear that the post office had to recall the recent stamp release? The stamps had pictures of lawyers on them, and people couldn’t figure out which side to spit on.

Why are lawyers buried 25 feet underground? Because, deep down, they're really nice guys.

What's the difference between a lawyer and a trampoline? You take off your shoes before you jump on a trampoline.

What do you call 20 lawyers skydiving from an airplane? Skeet.

What's the difference between an attorney and a pit bull? Jewelry.

What's the difference between God and an attorney? God doesn't think he's an attorney.

“Liability” - the ability of a lawyer to lie. (Submitted by George Tinkham)

OK, I confess, I LOVE lawyer jokes. In fact, I would recommend that no one should hire a lawyer who can’t laugh at himself. In fact, I’d like to introduce a new feature: Lawyer Joke of the Month. Send me your lawyer jokes, and I’ll post the good ones (or at least the good ones that be printed in a family publication!).

Those dirty rats

Q : I’m being investigated by the local cops. The allegations are bogus, but they won’t tell me who made the charge. [ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends are notorious ill-informants] The police will only say it was confidential information. Is there anything I can do?

A: Probably not. In most cases, the identity of informants can be kept confidential unless and until formal charges have been brought and that informant is identified as a witness. Until then, it is difficult, if not impossible, to learn the identify of that person.

That does not mean, however, that there are no limits on what an informer can do. If the identity of the informant is known, and the information given to the police is knowingly false, the informant can be sued for defamation. Even if the identity is not known, the police can bring charges against the informant for providing false information to the police.

Road Hazard. Com Gets Another One Fixed!

ABATE has a friend in the department of transportation. Maintenance Field Engineer Mike Walton, who is in charge of 7 counties in and around Springfield, recently contacted us about a road hazard originally reported by George Tinkham to RoadHazard.org and sent to Mike’s office for action.

This road hazard was significant enough to jeopardize every motorcyclist passing through the area of MacArthur and South Grand. Even though his office did not have jurisdiction for the area involved, Mike took it on himself to forward the information to those that do. Problem fixed. P.S. Mike rides a motorcycle – We were preaching to the choir.

Ride Safe and Free,

Rod Taylor

A.B.A.T.E. Legal Services

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: Ask Our Lawyer, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206_2850, or email rodtaylor@abatelegal.com. © 2005, A.B.A.T.E. Legal Services