The South Dakota Senate meets in Special Session tomorrow (Tuesday, April 26) at 9 a.m. Central in Pierre to discuss the trial of impeached Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. Senate President Pro-Tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska) has introduced rules for conducting this first South Dakota impeachment trial in Senate Resolution 702. Senator David Wheeler (R-22/Huron) says that he wrote the first draft based on his research of Senate impeachment rules from Arizona, North Dakota, and Illinois but that Senator Schoenbeck played a particularly significant role in editing the proposed rules. Schoenbeck is the only listed sponsor of SR 702, which the full Senate will discuss and vote on tomorrow.
If passed as written, SR 702 will set the following rules, to be followed in addition to (and, when in conflict, with supremacy over) the existing Senate and Joint Rules:
Before the trial:
- The Attorney General must inform the Senate by June 1 whether he pleads guilty or not guilty to each of the two articles of impeachment.
- The Senate will serve the Attorney General with the articles of impeachment and the resolution setting the trial date and time by certified mail. (The rules do not indicate what will happen if the A.G. ignores the mailed summons the way his office ignored the properly served summons on the Amendment C lawsuit, but I suspect the Senate as impeachment court will not be nearly as tolerant of such arbitray disregard for Legislative intent as the Second Circuit Court.)
- The prosecution and the respondent must submit all documents intended for submission in the trial to the Senate by June 1. Parties may submit additional documents during the trial. The Senate will post all trial documents on the Legislative website (and I assume that means for public access).
- Senators shall submit any questions they have for the parties to the presiding officer by June 13; the presiding officer must organize and submit those questions to both parties by June 16. (No word on whether questions submitted will be made public before the trial.)
- Parties may ask the Senate to subpoena witness, but subpoenaing parties must apply by June 1.
- Neither party may subpoena legislators, Senate officers or employees, Legislative staff, or counsel to either party as a witness (there goes one reader’s hope that Ravnsborg would put Vargo on the stand to ask about his work with the prosecutors of Ravnsborg’s criminal case).
- No depositions, no pretrial discovery, no pretrial motions, no motions to dismiss articles of impeachment (translation: no delays, no tricks—the Senate will hear this trial and render a verdict).
- Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden shall preside over the trial. If Rhoden steps out, President Pro-Tempore Schoenbeck will preside.
- All Senators will take an oath to “do justice according to law and evidence.”
- All witnesses will testify under oath.
- Any Senator may appeal a ruling or decision of the presiding officer; a majority of Senators must vote to sustain an appealed ruling or decision.
- The journal of this trial is public record (no closed-door testimony).
- The trial will not follow the statutory Rules of Evidence (SDCL Chapter 19-19). The Senate may hear any evidence that is “relevant, material, and not redundant,” as decided by the presiding officer.
- The Senate will convene Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at 8 a.m. Central.
- The prosecution and the respondent each get one hour to make opening statements.
- Each side gets four hours to present witnesses and exhibits and cross-examine witnesses.
- Testimony from Jason Ravnsborg himself does not count toward the time limit.
- After those presentations are done, Senators may submit addition questions for any witness or either party.
- Each side gets one hour to summarize.
- The Senate will recess each day at 8 p.m. and come back for more the next trial day. (With 12 hours max of timed presentations, plus unlimited time for Ravnsborg himself to testify and Senators to pose addition questions, the trial seems very likely to run to a second day; while Schoenbeck has said the trial will last two days, nothing in the rules prevent it from running additional days.)
- The Senate will vote on the first and second articles of impeachment separately.
- Senators may debate each article.
- Senators will cast roll call votes, out loud, one by one, just like in regular Senate Sessions.
- A two-thirds vote on either article will convict Ravnsborg and remove Ravnsborg from office.
- If the Senate votes to remove Ravnsborg from office, it will vote separately on whether to punish him further by disqualifying him from holding any state office. Article 16 Section 3 of the South Dakota Constitution says punishment for conviction on impeachment “shall not extend further than to removal from office and disqualification” from future office; it does not say those two punishments are severable… but it does not say they aren’t.
- No one may move to reconsider any vote on an article of impeachment or on disqualification. (One vote only—get it right!)
Again, these rules are set in stone yet. Senators meet Tuesday morning at 9 to discuss, maybe amend, and approve how they will bring Jason Ravnsborg to trial and convict or acquit him.