PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Senate voted 30-0 Tuesday to resolve itself into a court of impeachment and recessed until June 21 when the trial of state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg will begin.
Senators declined to take up an emailed request from defense attorney Mike Butler for more time to present Ravnsborg’s case at the trial. The rules adopted Tuesday provide four hours. Wrote Butler, “I do not believe the amount of time allocated for each side is adequate. I propose 7 hours for each side. Please share my thoughts with the Senate.”
Those rules say Ravnsborg has unlimited time if he chooses to testify. He didn’t go before a House committee that invited him several times and didn’t appear in court last year.
The House decision to impeach required that Ravnsborg be suspended from official duties. Because of the House vote, the Senate trial must occur, no matter whether Ravnsborg now resigns.
That’s because the Senate rules call for potentially two rounds of votes. The first round is on whether to sustain the two articles of impeachment passed by the House.
If at least one article is sustained, the second vote would be to permanently bar Ravnsborg from public office in South Dakota. Both rounds require a two-thirds majority of 24 senators.
Ravnsborg can return to office and resume duties if the Senate doesn’t reach 24 on either impeachment article.
The South Dakota Republican Party’s nominating convention starts June 23 in Watertown. Ravnsborg hasn’t declared whether he’ll seek a second term.
Senator Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, described the occasion Tuesday as “constitutionally mandated, historic and unfortunate.” He said all 35 senators will be on hand for the trial starting June 21. “I’m very confident of that.”
Senators excused Tuesday were Blake Curd, R-Sioux Falls; Red Dawn Foster, D-Pine Ridge; Julie Frye-Mueller, R-Rapid City; Troy Heinert, D-Mission; and Ryan Maher, R-Isabel.
Senator David Wheeler, R-Huron, began drawing up possible rules for a trial last year. The lawyer was joined by two retired circuit judges, Senator Art Rusch, R-Vermillion; and Senator Timothy Johns, R-Lead.
Schoenbeck was the only senator who spoke on the floor for passage of the rules Tuesday. He said nothing else will draw questions from the public as this issue.
Senators should have read the many hundreds of pages of reports and other evidence before the trial, Schoenbeck said. Senators who have questions should submit them to the Legislative Research Council, so those questions can be relayed to Ravnsborg’s and the Senate’s attorneys to cover in their opening statements, Schoenbeck said.
Pennington County state’s attorney Mark Vargo and Clay County state’s attorney Alexis Tracy will present the case for impeachment.