The South Dakota Senate has unanimously approved the rules for the June 21-22 impeachment trial of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for his conduct surrounding a 2020 fatal car crash.
Senate President Pro Tem Lee Schoenbeck says the rules set up a very simple and fair process, giving both the impeachment prosecutors and the defense one hour for an opening statement, 4 hours to present evidence, and one hour to close their case.
Individual senators also have time to ask additional questions, debate the articles of impeachment, and hear directly from Ravnsborg if he chooses to testify. Schoenbeck says the files to be presented will be made available to the senators in advance.
The Senate has appointed Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo as the lead prosecutor. Vargo assisted with the criminal investigation of the 2020 accident, but had left the team before charges were filed.
Ravnsborg, by law went on a leave of absence when the South Dakota House approved impeachment 36-31, is represented by well-known criminal defense attorney Michael Butler of Sioux Falls. Butler has handled a number of high-profile cases.
There are 2 articles of impeachment: one for crimes that caused a death and one for making “numerous misrepresentations” to investigators and using his office to try to steer the investigation.
The senators will vote on each article as well as on whether Ravnsborg should be barred from ever holding an office in the state again. It would take a 2/3rds majority to convict and bar him from future office.
Ravnsborg was indicted on 3 misdemeanor driving offenses and pled guilty to 2 of them in a plea bargain. He never appeared in court and was given no jail time. He did pay $4,700 in fines and restitution and has settled a civil suit with his victim’s family.
The 45-year old turned down an invitation to appear before the House impeachment committee, but said he was looking forward to the Senate trial as a chance to “be vindicated.”
Ravnsborg has rejected calls to resign and Schoenbeck says he thinks the Senate will go ahead and vote on impeachment and ban on future offices if Ravnsborg surprises everyone and resigns.