In addition to declaring the Government Accountability Board unconstitutional, Governor Kristi Noem’s Redstone lawyers challenged the complaint that then-Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg filed in September 2021 against Noem’s nepotistic intervention in her daughter’s struggle to become a real estate appraiser on the grounds that the Attorney General was not a person and that he is a sleazy person.
Among the interesting legal points Redstone lawyers Lisa Prostrollo, Matt McCaulley, and Christopher Sommers filed in their April motion to dismiss GAB complaint 2021-03 is that the Attorney General’s office cannot originate a complaint to the Government Accountability Board. Noem’s lawyers point to SDCL 3-24-4, which authorizes “any person acting in good faith” to file complaints with the GAB. A constitutional officer is not a person and (here Redstone cites Edgemont School District v. Department of Revenue 1999) “has no rights, no functions, no capacity, except such as are conferred upon it by the [L]egislature.” Redstone could also point to the default definition of “person” in SDCL 2-14-2(18): “‘Person’ includes natural persons, partnerships, associations, cooperative corporations, limited liability companies, and corporations;”. SDCL 2-14-2 doesn’t mention state officials acting in their official capacity as “persons”.
I have frequently questioned the humanity of both Ravnsborg and Noem, but evidently, by its continued investigation of this complaint, the Government Accountability Board has not.
Person or not, Noem’s lawyers also argue that the complainant was not acting in good faith. Instead, they ply the great distraction that Ravnsborg filed the complaint as political retaliation for Noem’s call for Ravnsborg’s impeachment. As evidence, Noem’s lawyers submit Ravnsborg’s notorious last-minute letter to the House of Representatives in which he himself played the same game, trying to distract the House from adjudicating the specifics of his impeachable behavior (killing a man, lying about it, and abusing his office to get out of trouble). Noem’s lawyers argue that Ravnsborg was raising “unfounded suspicions” and exploiting the GAB to “damage [his] political opponents, improperly influence elections and maintain [his] grip on political power….”
If Ravnsborg did act in bad faith, SDCL 3-24-6 would allow Governor Noem to take Ravnsborg to court and make him pay for all of McCaulley et al.’s GAB lawyering. But the tight-lipped GAB has said nothing about the complainant’s bad faith. Whatever selfish sleaziness may underpin Ravnsborg’s actions, the GAB has found that the complaint itself had some merit.
Much bad and little good can be said about Jason Ravnsborg. But none of the things we can say about Jason Ravnsborg change the facts of Kristi Noem’s corruption. She dragged appraiser certification chief Sherry Bren into a highly irregular star-chamber meeting at the Governor’s mansion. Noem had Bren chewed out in front of Noem’s daughter Kassidy Peters, who Bren kept refusing to certify to appraise real estate because Peters kept failing the test. Noem bullied Bren and pushed her out of her job, then paid a six-figure settlement to keep Bren quiet. In attacking Ravnsborg, Noem’s lawyers were doing to the GAB the same thing Noem and her daughter and backers have done to the public: using ad hominem attacks to distract us from the facts of Noem’s corruption.
The majority of legislators rejected Ravnsborg’s feints toward Noem’s corruption and meted out justice for Ravnsborg’s transgressions. The three Government Accountability Board members who heard Complaint 2021-03 appear to have rejected the same gambit by Noem and at least nodded toward holding Noem accountable for her corruption.