Last Friday, Watertown lawyer and former legislator Lee Schoenbeck dropped by the comment section to criticize my excessive coverage of Senator Neal Tapio’s scapegoating and attacks on the free press:
Tapio is a nut job and he can’t be recalled. It is our fault and he will be gone soon. No chance he could ever be elected to even clean our garbage cans. Quit giving the joke and jerk attention [Lee Schoenbeck, comment, Dakota Free Press, 2018.01.19].
On Saturday afternoon, Senator Tapio penned a letter to the South Dakota Bar Association asking for a formal opinion on whether it is unethical for a bar member to question his qualifications for office online. Tapio also asks how to formally request “an ethics investigation into an attorney who willfully spreads verifiably false information against a public elected official” and indicates that he’s gunning for a reprimand, a public apology, or even disbarment.
Tapio’s letter doesn’t name Schoenbeck or cite the specific offending comments, but when the Watertown Public Opinion follows up, Tapio doesn’t mention the above “joke and jerk” comment; instead, he alleges that Schoenbeck has questioned Tapio’s legal residency:
In the Dakota Free Press blog Schoenbeck is asked to comment on Tapio’s true residence.
“He lives in Rapid City. He rents a place on Lake Kampeska and keeps a little stuff in it to claim residency,” Schoenbeck writes. “It’s an old scam for those that disrespect the state constitution and the idea that the people in our community deserve representation in Pierre.”
In his email Tapio says Schoenbeck “has repeatedly claimed I do not reside in Watertown, but rather in Rapid City” [J.T. Fey, “Tapio Asks S.D. State Bar Association to Look into Schoenbeck’s Comments,” Watertown Public Opinion, 2018.01.22].
I have checked my database: I can find no comment from Lee Schoenbeck concerning Tapio’s lakeside rental. But Schoenbeck affirms his statement in the paper:
Schoenbeck, a former state legislator, responded to Tapio’s comments this morning in an email to the Public Opinion.
“He doesn’t live here. He lives in Rapid City and visits here often enough to claim to be a resident,” Schoenbeck wrote. “When Neal Tapio called our community rec center a ‘socialist palace’ I thought he made it clear he wasn’t part of the community. When he goes on his anti-religion rants, he made it clear he doesn’t respect the Constitution” [Fey, 2018.01.22].
Schoenbeck seems unfazed by Tapio’s requests to the state bar.
“I’ve got broad shoulders,” Schoenbeck wrote. “I’d rather have him attack me than the innocent people he regularly attacks. and our community he so dearly seems to enjoy embarrassing” [Fey, 2018.01.22].
Did you catch that? Innocent people.
The South Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers includes only one rule that might be relevant to Tapio’s complaint. Rule 8.4(c) says “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to… engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” Yet nothing in Tapio’s letter to the bar or his statements to the press refutes a single word Schoenbeck has said. Tapio doesn’t state that his owns rather than rents the Kampeska dwelling. Tapio does not deny that he maintains a dwelling in Rapid City. Schoenbeck doesn’t question that Tapio has an “actual address” on Kampeska; he only alleges that Tapio maintains that address to qualify for the ballot in District 5.
Well, there’s one way to settle this. Let’s see the property records from Codington County for 188 S Lake Drive, Watertown, the Kampeska address Tapio claimed on his 2016 nominating petition. And can someone tell me where Tapio’s Rapid City property is and how often folks see him around town?
Of course, it’s silly that we’re having a debate about Lee Schoenbeck’s veracity when the real scourge to our society is Neal Tapio’s propagation of racist, Trumpist lies.