What’s next in the Ravnsborg impeachment process?

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s been three weeks since 58 members of the South Dakota House of Representatives voted in favor of a resolution starting the impeachment process against Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. 

The House Select Committee on Investigation, consisting of six Republican representatives and two Democrat representatives with House Speaker Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham) serving as a tie-breaking vote, has met once. The special committee voted 6-0, with three excused, in favor of directing the Legislative Research Council staff to work with special counsel hired by the committee. 

On Tuesday, Gosch told KELOLAND News there were no updates on when the special committee would meet next or who would be hired as special counsel. Gosch said he hopes there’ll be new information to provide shortly.  

When asked if “shortly” would be a manner of days or weeks, Gosch said hopefully days. He also added the committee is making sure they take all of the correct steps during the process. 

Special committee member Jamie Smith (D-Sioux Falls) told KELOLAND News he had no new information to report but said Gosch has remained in contact with committee members about the process. 

The committee is assigned to look at what happened during the night of September 12, 2020, when the car Ravnsborg was driving struck and killed Joe Boever. Ravnsborg had his attorney plead no-contest to two second-class misdemeanors. He received no jail time and never appeared in court on the charges.

A simple majority of 36 representatives in the House would be necessary to impeach Ravnsborg, at which time the state Constitution states there would be “Suspension of duties between impeachment and acquittal.” The process would then move a Senate trial.

In the special committee’s lone meeting, Justin Goetz, the LRC’s Chief Research and Legal Analyst, gave a presentation on the committee’s “scope of work, legal authorities informing the work and duties in performing the work.” 

In his presentation, Goetz told special committee members the entire House of Representatives acts like a Grand Jury in determining whether criminal charges should be brought. 

“Regardless of what you find, the committee must issue a report to the House,” Goetz said. “The committee will also have the two-fold task of proposing, first, what the article or articles should be and, second, the manner of which the House of Representatives should manage it’s impeachment case in the Senate. In this matter, should the House vote to impeach.”

Goetz was asked by lawmakers to define the terms the South Dakota Constitution uses as grounds for impeachment. Specifically, “impeachment for drunkenness, crimes, corrupt conduct, or malfeasance or misdemeanor in office.” 

Goetz admitted there’s been a number of previous cases that have defined those words in other legal cases, but he declined to go into detail and said that question would be better for the committee’s special counsel. 

Gosch also highlighted how the words “in office” follow the terms “drunkenness, crimes, corrupt conduct, or malfeasance or misdemeanor” as grounds for impeachment. Goetz again declined to answer interpretations and pointed the question to special counsel.  

Special committee member Kevin Jensen (R-Canton) asked how the committee’s power to issue and enforce subpoenas works. State law says lawmakers “may punish, as a contempt, by imprisonment” for any witness to be examined before the committee. 

Goetz said the details of subpoena time frames would be decided with guidance from special counsel. 

Gosch said committee members should treat the LRC staff like an encyclopedia, but the special counsel would serve as a teacher and make the interpretations. 

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