SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Proposed rules give suspended South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg until June 1 to file a written answer to each of the two articles of impeachment and he must appear personally or by counsel before the state Senate for the trial of his impeachment.
The rules, offered in legislation called Senate Resolution 702, were filed Friday afternoon. The Senate needs to adopt a set of rules for the trial prior to its June 21 start. They break down the two-day trial in five chapters: commencement, organization, pre-trial procedure, trial procedure, and verdict and judgment. You can view the six pages of rules in the document below.
Ravnsborg has to have a written answer whether he pleads guilty or not guilty on each article of impeachment. Officially, House Resolution 7002 said Ravnsborg was impeached for “certain crimes and for malfeasance in office” in connection with the September 12, 2020, death of pedestrian Joe Boever, who was walking on the shoulder of U.S. 14 at the west edge of Highmore when the car Ravnsborg was driving struck and killed Boever.
Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, announced Ravnsborg’s trial would be held Tuesday and Wednesday, June 21-22, 2022, at the South Dakota Capitol in Pierre.
The House of Representatives needed at least 36 yes votes from its 70 members to impeach Ravnsborg and reached that threshold, 36-31, last week, after a closed-door caucus by Republicans that ran more than 90 minutes. No one spoke in Ravnsborg’s defense during the House debate that followed. He is suspended from official duties as attorney general until the conclusion of the Senate trial. Removing Ravnsborg permanently from state office requires a two-thirds majority of 24 senators to convict.
The proposed rules say each senator will take a vote on each article of impeachment against Ravnsborg.
Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden will preside over the trial as the Senate president. Governor Kristi Noem has repeatedly urged Ravnsborg to step down and called on the House to impeach him when he wouldn’t resign. Noem and Rhoden are running for re-election. All three are Republicans, as are 32 of the 35 senators.
Ravnsborg hasn’t announced whether he will seek a second term as attorney general. The South Dakota Republican statewide convention meets in Watertown for three days immediately after the scheduled finish of the trial. Convention delegates will nominate the Republican candidate for attorney general. Former Attorney General Marty Jackley is seeking a return to that office with Noem’s support.
Ravnsborg is South Dakota’s first statewide elected official to face impeachment. Senator David Wheeler, R-Huron, was given the lead assignment to work on drafting the rules for the trial. Wheeler, a lawyer, told KELOLAND News he used the Senate impeachment rules from Arizona, North Dakota, and Illinois as a basis for the initial draft.
“I should point out that I put together the initial draft as a starting point, but there has been significant editing by others, particularly Senator Schoenbeck, as a final draft was compiled for review by the whole Senate. So I did not write everything in the rules as they exist now,” Wheeler said.
Schoenbeck, the Senate’s top member, is an attorney. The Senate meets Tuesday to begin preparing for the trial. Wheeler said there will be a hearing on the proposed rules by the Senate Legislative Procedure Committee.
The Senate will use prosecutors rather than have House members serve as managers for the trial. They are Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo and Clay County State’s Attorney Alexis Tracy.
Wheeler said he found many variations in how states handle various matters for impeachment.
“There is no standard guide or uniform procedure on impeachment so naturally there (were) many differences. Some rules were very long and detailed. Others were more simple and succinct. I strived to keep it simple,” he said.
According to Wheeler, “One interesting variation among the states is the issue of a separate vote on the question of disqualification. In the rules I saw, this was usually a separate vote taken after the initial vote to sustain the articles passed by two-thirds. However the vote required to disqualify from future office was sometimes only a majority and sometimes two-thirds. The proposed Senate rules for South Dakota use two-thirds.”
If Ravnsborg is convicted, the South Dakota Constitution article on impeachment says he is removed from office and disqualified “to hold any office of trust or profit under the state.” If he is acquitted, he may resume duties of his office. Chief Deputy Charles McGuigan is in charge of the office while Ravnsborg is suspended.
Reporter Bob Mercer contributed to this report.