The state went after former District 35 Senator Jessica Castleberry from Rapid City for taking $603K in coronavirus relief funds under a state contract while she was in office. Article 3 Section 12 of the South Dakota Constitution says a legislator may not “during the term for which he [pronoun fix coming in 2024] shall have been elected, or within one year thereafter, be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract with the state or any county thereof, authorized by any law passed during the term for which he shall have been elected.” Castleberry violated that constitutional provision and resigned in disgrace last week, agreeing to pay back, with interest, the $499K that Attorney General Marty Jackley found directly benefited Castleberry’s daycare business.
But wait a minute—the state’s settlement with Castleberry said she could seek state contracts again after she has been out of the Legislature for one year. That phrasing suggests the state would let her seek state contracts one year after her resignation, which she tendered on Thursday, August 17. But Article 3 Section 12 doesn’t mention resignation or other non-fatal removal from office. Article 3 Section 12 prohibits state contracts with legislators for one year after the term for which the legislator has been elected. The no-contract clock starts ticking when legislators are sworn in for their first Session in January, runs the full two years of that term, and runs another year past that. Effectively, Article 3 Section 12 requires every legislator elected in 2022 and sworn in on January 10, 2023, to refrain from taking state contracts until January 14, 2026. That state-contract wait lasts that long whether current legislators serve out their full current terms but don’t run for reëlection in 2024 or choose to resign prior to the beginning of the 2025 Session.
Jessica Castleberry was elected last November to a Legislative term that began on January 10 of this year and was to run until January 14, 2025. Even if she had resigned on January 11 of this year, before she voted on anything in the 2023 Session, she still can’t sign any contract with the state until one full year after the end of the term for which she was elected. That’s not August 17, 2024, as the settlement published by the Attorney General suggests. That’s January 14, 2026.
Attorney General Jackley, like Jessica Castleberry, has sworn an oath to support the state Constitution. But Attorney General Jackley has signed off on a settlement attempts to short-circuit the constitutional prohibition of state contracts with legislators elected in 2022 until 2026. No legal settlement can override the South Dakota Constitution. Jessica Castleberry has to sit out of the hunt for state pork for two years and five months.