AG seeks high court review of Bonner County case

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SANDPOINT — Should convicted felons in Idaho be allowed to whitewash their criminal records to keep them from interfering with their employment prospects?

That is one of the questions bumping around a simmering pot before the Idaho Supreme Court in a former Bonner County man’s quest to have his conviction papered over so it no longer impedes his ability to secure work as a fire marshal.

Patrick Alvin Park was charged in 1990 with battery with intent to commit rape and forcible penetration with a foreign object. In a plea agreement with the state, Park pleaded guilty to the battery charge in exchange for the dismissal of the other sex charge.

Park, then in his early 20s, was ordered to serve a two- to six-year prison sentence and was paroled in 1994. He was required to register as a sex offender upon release, but that obligation was eliminated after he successfully argued that he posed no risk to the public, court documents state.

Park moved in 2010 to have conviction sealed because it was causing him economic harm, but 1st District Judge Steve Verby denied the request, holding that difficulties in finding employment in one’s chosen field is a natural consequence of being convicted of a felony offense.

Park, now 45, appealed the ruling and won a re-hearing on his motion to seal. The Idaho Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court could consider a convicted felon’s difficulty in securing employment in their chosen field due to public access to his record.

The appeals court issued an order last month sealing his criminal case and his ensuing civil action. The court further ordered that Park be uniformly referred to as John Doe in court filings.

Although a final determination on the motion to seal is still pending, Park’s cases are no longer listed in publicly-accessible portions of the Idaho Supreme Court Data Repository or the Idaho Statewide Trial Court Record System. A search for his civil matter using its case number triggers a pop-up window in ISTARS which states the case is sealed.

A hearing on the appellate court’s remand order was set for Dec. 18, 2012, but a deputy attorney general petitioned the Idaho Supreme Court to review the matter.

Deputy AG Russell Spencer argues the appellate ruling conflicts with a U.S. Supreme Court precedent and is inconsistent with a recent state supreme court ruling.

Russell further argues that the appeals court ruling will leave the courts awash in petitions to seal due to economic harm.

“This will inevitably result in a flood of petitions in the district courts seeking such an entitlement,” Russell said in the petition for review.

The high court has not yet decided whether it will take up the review.

Park’s legal counsel, Michael G. Palmer, said he is perplexed why the case remains an object of interest in Bonner County. Palmer emphasized that his client’s misconduct was an aberration and Park has gone to great lengths to satisfy his court-ordered obligations and lead a productive, law-abiding life.

“He did his time and he completed his sentence,” Palmer said.

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