PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Prosecutors intend to lay out several reasons why the South Dakota Senate should vote to remove state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg from office later this month.
They will say that Ravnsborg committed a traffic offense when his car crashed into pedestrian Joe Boever, who was walking on the shoulder of US 14 at the west edge of Highmore. They will also argue that Ravnsborg tried to mislead investigators about what occurred that night of September 12, 2020. And they will say that he has a documented history of driving faster than the posted speed limit, both before and since the deadly crash.
“I’d like people to understand what we’re doing,” one of the prosecutors, Pennington County state’s attorney Mark Vargo, told KELOLAND News on Friday. “It boils down to the question of the criminal offense and the question of malfeasance, his misuse of office and misuse of authority.”
Those arguments will start the morning of June 21 when the two-day impeachment trial begins for Ravnsborg. Vargo and Clay County state’s attorney Alexis Tracy will be the Senate’s prosecutors. Sioux Falls attorney Michael Butler will defend Ravnsborg.
Butler hasn’t filed a witness list. Among the prosecution’s witnesses are two former South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation agents who haven’t previously testified. One is Brent Gromer, who is now retired. Ravnsborg asked him what could be found on cell phones Ravnsborg was using before the crash. The other is Tyler Neuharth, a former DCI polygraph operator.
Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden will preside over the Senate trial. His legal adviser will be the previous lieutenant governor, attorney Matt Michels.
The South Dakota Constitution requires a two-thirds majority of 24 senators to sustain one or both of the articles of impeachment that the state House of Representatives approved 36-31.
If enough senators vote to sustain, Ravnsborg will be removed from office. A second roll-call vote among the 35 senators would immediately follow on whether Ravnsborg should be permanently disqualified from holding “any office of trust or profit under the state.”
This is the first impeachment trial for a statewide elected official in South Dakota.
At A Glance
Here are the various South Dakota Supreme Court decisions, and state and federal documents, regarding professional standards for a lawyer and removal from office, that prosecutors filed for the two-day impeachment trial later this month.
Preamble A Lawyer’s Responsibilities — This overview lays out the South Dakota Supreme Court’s and the Legislature’s official expectations of lawyers.
Rule 1.7 Conflict of Interest Current Clients — This lays out how the South Dakota Supreme Court and Legislature expects lawyers to treat clients.
Rule 3.3 Candor Toward the Tribunal — This lays out how lawyers are expected act in court in South Dakota.
Rule 3.8 Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor — This lays out how a prosecutor is expected to act toward a suspect or defense attorney in South Dakota.
Rule 8.4 Misconduct — This defines acts of professional misconduct by a lawyer in South Dakota.
S.D. Supreme Court actions
Craig v Jensen — This 1938 opinion by the state’s high court upheld a decision by a governor to remove a person from the state’s then-Board of Charities and Corrections that oversaw the South Dakota penitentiary.
In re Discipline of Tornow — This 2013 disciplinary action by the state’s high court found that an assistant Sioux Falls city attorney misused a city office.
State ex rel Steffen v Peterson — This 2000 opinion by the state’s high court upheld a South Dakota circuit judge deciding against removing a county register of deeds.
1001 Statements or entries generally — This covers federal employees of the executive, judicial and legislative branches.
U.S. Regulations and Ethics
2635.704 Use of Government Property — This covers authorized uses of federal government property.
CFR 2635.702 Misuse of Office — This covers misuse of a federal position for private gain.
Misuse of Position and Government Resources — This covers proper and improper use of an official’s title.
At A Glance II
Here are other times when state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was pulled over by law enforcement for traffic violations before and after the crash, according to prosecutors.
June 6, 2020 — An Iowa state trooper stopped Ravnsborg for speeding on a rural highway (video) and issued a warning.
September 6, 2020 — A Huron police officer stopped Ravnsborg on a city street (paper.)
November 20, 2020 — A South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper stopped Ravnsborg in Pennington County (paper.)
A West Point, Nebraska, police officer stopped Ravnsborg on his way to National Guard duty in Fremont, Nebraska, and issued a warning.
The full file of Senate documents can be seen here.