S.D. House speaker paid $12,000 for lobbyist’s legal fees

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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota House Speaker Steven Haugaard confirmed Tuesday he authorized a $12,000 check be sent to a Rapid City law firm that represented a South Dakota Municipal League official whom Haugaard banned from the House floor during the 2019 legislative session. 

After receiving the payment, attorneys for executive director Yvonne Taylor in turn have now asked U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange to dismiss the league’s federal lawsuit against Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican.

“No state funds,” Haugaard said Tuesday afternoon when a KELOLAND reporter asked him about the payment.

The speaker added, “I had broad support for the position I took.”

David Lust, a Rapid City lawyer who represented Taylor, told KELOLAND earlier Tuesday that a payment was made.

“We received a letter from Rep. Haugaard along with a teller’s check in the amount of $12,000 with Steven Haugaard identified as the remitter on the check,” said Lust, a former legislator who served a total of 11 years, including 2011-2014 as House Republican leader.

Lust added, “The payment concludes the matter and it will be dismissed.”

The dismissal motion is dated April 22.

Taylor has been executive director since 1996. At one point Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, seemed to have stoked the fray.

The governor’s account tweeted on March 28: “”Tomorrow the legislative executive board will decide who should pay for Speaker Haugaard’s legal bills? The taxpayers or Haugaard?”

The tweet stirred speculation, but the matter wasn’t on the Executive Board agenda.

According to federal court documents filed by Taylor earlier this year, Haugaard called her into his office January 14 and brought up her column from the May 2018 issue of the league’s magazine.

Haugaard told Taylor she wouldn’t be allowed any longer on the House floor.

Taylor said a House assistant sergeant-at-arms asked her to leave the House floor January 17.

In the May article, which appeared prior to the June 2018 primary elections, Taylor suggested voters make a distinction between what she called “The Normals” and the “Wackies.”

One sentence said: “We desperately need to get that ‘wacky ratio’ down.”

The House and Senate chambers are normally open to the public, including lobbyists, on days during legislative session except in the hours immediately before and after each day’s action.

The sides reached agreement on January 23, one day before a hearing in Judge Lange’s court. Rich Williams, a lawyer on the state attorney general’s staff, represented Haugaard.

Receiving no further information, however, Judge Lange issued a temporary restraining order January 25 against Haugaard and said the speaker wasn’t protected by legislative immunity. 

“There is no indication that Haugaard was following South Dakota’s legislative procedures when he harmed Taylor, and the ban was not related to any legislation or legislative function. In short. Speaker Haugaard’s ban of Taylor was not legislative in either form or substance,” Lange wrote.

The judge added: “The public interest favors access by the public to legislators, including access to legislators by Taylor as executive director and lobbyist for the League and as lobbyist for the South Dakota Police Chiefs’ Association.

He continued: “The public interest disfavors elected officials retaliating against journalists or columnists who write articles encouraging people to vote and criticizing closedminded legislators. This Court hopes that Haugaard was not doing that and had some other thought in mind.

“This Court of course does not know that Haugaard in fact retaliated against Taylor for the column she wrote, but Taylor’s affidavit and attachments to that affidavit presents a prima facie case of this.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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