PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Former South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate Annette Bosworth avoided prison time Wednesday for felony election law violations, with a judge handing down a suspended sentence provided she successfully completes three years of probation.
Bosworth, a Republican who finished a distant fourth of five candidates in the GOP primary last year, was convicted in May of perjury and filing false documents.
A physician and first-time candidate, Bosworth admitted that she improperly attested to witnessing signatures on her nominating petitions, but blamed bad advice from her political consultant.
"I think that the power of a felony in this situation is excessive, and I'm really hoping for the conversations through the appeal to the Supreme Court to remove all this," Bosworth told The Associated Press after the sentencing.
Attorney General Marty Jackley said in a statement that it was a just outcome.
"I respect today's sentence because jail is meant primarily for public safety, not necessarily for people whose conduct has crossed the line of exasperation to the general public," Jackley said.
Bosworth was sentenced to two years prison each for her twelve felony counts to be served concurrently, but the jail time was suspended as long as she completes the probation. The probation includes 500 hours of community service and covering court costs and paying for the county's costs of prosecution.
Judge John Brown said before he sentenced Bosworth that it's clear she's done good work, but he said he had hoped to see more remorse from her. Bosworth's attorneys unsuccessfully pushed for a sentence that encompassed probation and the conviction wiped away if Bosworth successfully completed it.
Bosworth, 43, was a political newcomer in the 2014 race for South Dakota's vacant U.S. Senate seat, and hoped her ordinary-citizen status would appeal to voters who were frustrated with longtime politicians. She was a sharp critic of the federal health overhaul and pledged not to raise taxes, but wound up finishing with just 6 percent of the vote or fourth of five candidates in a GOP primary won by former Gov. Mike Rounds, who was elected to the seat in November.
She would later cite inexperience for mishandling her nominating petitions.
She was out of the country on a medical mission during the period her petitions were circulating, yet attested to witnessing people signing them. Under state law, the person circulating petitions must witness the signings from registered voters.
Bosworth blamed bad advice from a former attorney and political consultant, Joel Arends. He denied giving bad advice and testified that Bosworth knew what she was doing.
She has worried that her conviction could jeopardize her medical license. Felony convictions are grounds for revocation in South Dakota, but not an automatic disqualifier.
"What did 12 felonies do to somebody like me? Most powerfully, they stopped me from leaving the country, and the medical board has a tough decision in front of them," Bosworth said.
Another candidate in the 2014 GOP Senate field, independent Clayton Walker, faces 12 felony charges for submitting nominating petitions that investigators allege included names of dead people, fictitious people and Hollywood celebrities.
The Bosworth and Walker cases spurred the South Dakota Legislature this year to change election laws such as giving the secretary of state the power to audit a random sample of the signatures on petitions from statewide candidates. Before, it could only be done on petitions for ballot measures.