Willard found guilty of violating election law
By CHUCK CLEMENT, Staff Reporter
A Madison jury found Daniel Willard guilty late Thursday afternoon on four counts of violating state election law, and the Sioux Falls man was sentenced not long afterward in the Lake County Courthouse.|
The jury consisting of nine females and three males went into deliberation at about 4:20 p.m. Thursday and did not return to the courtroom until 5:40 p.m. One male juror who was in the courtroom throughout the trial was excused as the group's alternate.
Willard was charged with four counts of violating state election laws, that he failed "to identify the name and address of the maker of a communication within 60 days of an election." The case centered on two "robocalls," or automated phone messages, that were sent to Russell Olson of Madison in September 2012 that were critical of several Republican legislative leaders, including Olson.
Olson, a state legislator since 2006, has served as the state Senate majority leader for the last several years. He will resign from the Legislature this September when he assumes a new position as general manager and CEO of Heartland Consumers Power District.
Judge Vincent A. Foley sentenced Willard after the jury was dismissed, and Willard waived a 48-hour waiting period between the jury's verdict and sentencing. Foley ordered the same penalties on each of the four Class 1 misdemeanors.
On each count, Willard was ordered to pay $250 in fines and another $84 in court costs. Thirty days of jail time were suspended on each count if he meets all of the conditions of his sentencing. Willard was also told to remain a law-abiding resident for 364 days and ordered to not anonymously put forward any political positions or opinions.
When Willard's attorney, R. Shawn Tornow of Sioux Falls, asked for more details about the anonymous opinions directive, Foley said that he wanted Willard to avoid getting involved in "another rigmarole that results in something like this (trial)."
Foley ordered Willard to serve the four sentences consecutively.
During the sentencing, prosecutor Brent Kempema, an assistant attorney general for South Dakota, said as part of his comments to Foley that it was "not the state's proposition that the book be thrown" at Willard. However, Kempema did suggest that he serve "a short amount of jail time." Kempema added that Willard had sponsored the robocalls "basically to influence elections" and, to prevent others from committing the same violations, the state would "need some sort of deterrent effort."
Kempema also requested that Willard pay for the expense of prosecuting the case, including the expense related to flying witnesses to South Dakota from places such as Illinois and Arizona.
During his comments to the judge, Tornow disagreed with Kempema's assertion that the robocalls were intended to influence elections because the 2012 general election was not directly mentioned in the messages. Tornow said that election law violations were not typically punished with jail sentences. He added that Willard was affected by negative publicity from the court case.
Tornow asked Foley to consider "where (Willard's) heart was at considering his free speech rights."
Foley told Willard that he didn't believe actual jail time was necessary, but he also told the Sioux Falls man that he had put himself in his current position.
Foley agreed with the request to have Willard pay for prosecution expenses and told Kempema to have the S.D. Attorney General's Office calculate the appropriate amount.
At the end of the court session, Kempema said the S.D. Attorney General's Office "was pleased with the verdict and appreciated the jury's hard work."
Willard and Tornow were not available for comment after the court session was closed.