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Old 09-11-2004, 06:53 AM
Phil in Paris Phil in Paris is offline
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Default Article: Are we happy now? No, but it was right

Randell Beck
Argus Leader Executive Editor

published: 5/28/2004

Seventeen months have passed since this newspaper started the fight to release the names of people pardoned secretly by former Gov. Bill Janklow.

During that time, a few on the list that was released Thursday have contacted us to register anger at our efforts. Nine sued to keep the list secret - the case that led to the Supreme Court's decision opening the records. Others, writing anonymously, expressed anguish.

"I did my time in prison, completed parole, earned a college degree, became a homeowner, registered to vote, became gainfully employed and have thoroughly enjoyed all the rights and civil liberties we here in South Dakota enjoy," one person wrote me not long ago.

"My rights have now been restored," he continued. "Publishing my name as one who received a pardon would violate that and potentially cause myself and my family undue discrimination. Making my pardon public would defeat the purpose for which it was created."

I heard from him again on Thursday, minutes after we placed the names of 218 pardons recipients on our Web site.

The message was short: "Are you happy now?"

An honest answer to that question is complicated, for it reveals the shadowy intersection of the public's right to know what its government and elected leaders are doing with, at least in this case, an individual's inalienable right to a second chance at life.

In the decision to publish all those names today, we are mindful that every interest will not be served.

On a broad level, the release of the 218 names of people and the crimes for which they were pardoned represents a major victory for all South Dakotans. The Supreme Court's ruling struck a major blow against closed government in one of the most secretive of states and, even more important, solidified the principle that nobody, not even a governor, may subvert the public's interest in, and knowledge of, its institutions.

That includes the Legislature, which blindly gave Janklow and other governors the power to pardon in secret more than 20 years ago.

So today, because the Supreme Court did the right thing, we know what some of us suspected - that Janklow gave pardons to family, political and personal allies and state employees.

Who, other than those who used their connections to wipe away their crimes, could argue those names should remain out of the public eye?

Likewise, because the list was released, rumors are put to rest. Just as important as knowing who got pardons, we know who didn't.

In a democratic society, government works best with the presumption of openness. That's why, in the criminal justice system, defendants are charged, tried and found guilty or innocent in open court.

Though few would challenge a governor's right to pardon, to wipe clean an indiscretion of the past, it is hard to argue that power overshadows the spirit of openness that remains a cornerstone of our republic.

But what of the citizen who committed some minor infraction years ago and, in the intervening years, has rebuilt his or her life to become a productive member of society?

Why dredge up a 15-year-old conviction for shoplifting, driving drunk, smoking marijuana or, as in the case with some on the list, fishing or hunting without a license?

"I was a young kid, and I screwed up," Iowan Mark Dean Varenhorst told me when he learned his name would be published. He questioned whether the public benefits from knowing what he did, but he did not ask that his name be withheld.

"I changed my life a full 180 degrees," he said. "I became a member of my community, not just someone who lives there ... But I have nothing to hide."

Clifford Marohl, of Aberdeen, offered similar feelings. He and his wife, Gina, were convicted of cocaine possession in 1987, and neither are very happy about seeing their mistakes publicized.

"If our names weren't on that list, I would have wanted the list to come out, too," he told reporter Ben Shouse. "I think it should be public knowledge who he pardoned."

Are we happy now?

No.

Was this necessary?

I believe so. If the process had been open from the beginning, those who pulled strings for a pardon wouldn't have gotten one; those who simpy deserved a second chance - Varenhorst, the Marohls, many others - could have moved on.

There is a price for open government. And there is a price for secrecy. It comes down to which we choose to pay.


http://www.argusleader.com/columnist...05_28_04.shtml
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Old 09-11-2004, 07:07 AM
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StacysWar030 StacysWar030 is offline
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I find it ludicrous that the "public" needs to know. NO we don't. All that does is bring unjustified fear into the community. I could care less who my neighbor is or his crimes, as long as he's now a productive member of society WHO GIVES A RIP?? I think the "public" are just nosey and LOVE drama and a good story to gossip about.

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Old 09-11-2004, 10:04 AM
flygirlaa2 flygirlaa2 is offline
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When it comes to the government workings, I think the publics right to know unfortunately supeseeds the right to privacy of those pardoned. I feel for them, but the government keeping secrets from citizens is intolerable.
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