This week’s Sounding Board (left to right): Scott Newman, Melisa Lopez Franzen, Greg Davids, Scott Dibble, Annette Meeks
This week’s topics: Unanimous pardons; costly court records; desert island disks
Query 1: The Board of Pardons’ June 21 meeting was scuttled by a dispute over a law that requires pardon votes to be unanimous. Gov. Tim Walz sided in court with a woman whose application was rejected by a 2-1 board vote; a judge ruled the law unconstitutional. Chief Justice Lorie Gildea says she won’t attend another meeting until the case clears appeals. What’s your vote? Should all pardons be unanimous?
Scott Newman, attorney, GOP Senate Transportation chair: We must follow the statute, unless and until it is declared by the Minnesota Supreme Court that the statute is unconstitutional. If it requires a unanimous vote, that’s what must be followed.
Melisa Lopez Franzen, attorney, DFL state senator: Yes, quite frankly. If you’re going to have a pardon, you probably want to make sure that everyone is on the same page who is involved in giving the pardon. I think that gives it more closure and more accuracy.
Greg Davids, GOP House member: I think they should. If the higher courts change it, then we go with not being unanimous. I think the chief justice is wise to let it play out, because if she doesn’t, they could make decisions that aren’t going to hold up. Let the process work out and we’ll go with whatever the higher court rules.
Scott Dibble, DFL state senator: I believe that pardons should not require a unanimous vote, but a majority vote of the panel. I think it would delay or block the delivery of justice in some cases. I think, in terms of a good and fair process on a deliberative body such as this, it shouldn’t be allowed for one person to just block what would otherwise be a majority opinion of the panel.
Annette Meeks, CEO, Freedom Foundation: Yes, I think anything that serious, where you are overriding a judge or a jury’s decision, should require a unanimous vote. And actually, a transparent hearing, so that people understand why they decided to take that action.
Query 2: Minnesota Court Records Online (MCRO) allows downloads of court records at home, and it’s free—for now. In 2022, it will cost $8 per document. The legislature requires courts to charge that fee, but that’s based on a world where expensive paper copies were printed out for court visitors. MCRO will cost more than $1.5 million plus upkeep when it’s complete. Still, should lawmakers consider reducing the fee for digital court downloads?
Newman: I would say absolutely. We’ve moved into an era where we’re trying to get away from paper documents and, of course, they were expensive. So the answer would be yes. Let’s take a look at the real cost of digital downloads. Whoever is accessing them should certainly pay for them, but I don’t believe that should be a revenue-raising process. It should be a break-even thing, along the lines of a government service to the people.
Franzen: For digital? Sure! Everything is digital and if it is not going to cost extra expense, why should we make money for giving people information that is public information?
Davids: Yes. It becomes a profit center and I don’t think we need to do that. People need court records and there is usually a reason for it. They should maybe go with what the actual cost is.
Dibble: Yeah, that’s just ridiculous. I didn’t know about that. If it’s a legitimate issue of putting the court system to some kind of expense, then let’s a.) ascertain what the actual expense is because $8 dollars sounds usurious, and b.) just appropriate a sufficient amount of the general fund dollars to cover that cost.
Meeks: Yeah, I mean, hello! Let’s at least drag this into the 20th Century, if not the 21st.
Query 3: Make-believe time: You’ve been exiled to a desert island and ordered to leave immediately without your possessions. Save one: You get to take your favorite album in the format of your choice. Which one will you choose?
Newman: Billy Joel’s “Greatest Hits.” I like Billy Joel as a poet. He is a singer-songwriter and I always think that the singer-songwriters—Billy Joel, Elton John, John Denver, Neil Diamond, people who write their own music—all have a message in their songs that reflects real-life experiences. That’s what I like about them.
Franzen: Probably, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” It was my first CD.
Davids: Oh man, this is hard because there are so many good ones. I would take Kenny Chesney’s “Greatest Hits.” It’s tough between Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Toby Keith or Kenny Chesney. But I’ll go with Kenny Chesney. He has just got a string of hits. If I had to end up on a desert island, I could listen to him for the rest of my life.
Dibble: I would take U2’s “War,” probably. And I would take it on my old, little tiny Apple iPod player. That whole album came about at the time of my kind of social, political and personal awakening. The political messages and the musicianship—I just love that album more than I can express. It was connected to the faith tradition that I was coming from and it was connected to social justice and humanity and war and the hope of peace. It was just really, really meaningful to my political awakening at the time, very enervating and enlivening and energizing.
Meek: Oh, my goodness! I would take a CD, since that’s likely to withstand the test of time a little more. I’d take Bruce Springsteen’s “Greatest Hits.” I have such happy memories of that compilation when it came out, it’s happy music for me. It takes me to my happy place!