South Dakota Ethics Council Continues Investigation into Noem

SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) — A South Dakota government ethics committee on Wednesday continued its investigation into two complaints against Kristi Noem administration, opposing an attempt by the Republican governor to have them fired and extending the time who has it to investigate the matter. accusations.

Naem, a potential White House contender in 2024, is under investigation by state Government Accountability Body for allegations that she abused the powers of her office by: interfere with her daughter’s application for a real estate valuation permit and flying state planes to political events. She has denied any wrongdoing.

As Attorney General, Jason Ravnsborg last year the complaints were filed against Noem. Ravnsborg, a fellow Republican, was removed from office in June for his conduct surrounding an unrelated car accident in which he killed a pedestrian. He has continued to bring complaints as a private person.

After about an hour behind closed doors meeting, the three retired judges on the board of directors reviewing the complaints voted unanimously against the governor’s request to dismiss the complaints. They then voted to give themselves a 60-day extension “for further investigation” to evaluate the merits of the complaints.

Ravnsborg said he was “glad” that the board of directors had gone ahead with its investigation, adding that “the people of South Dakota deserve to know the truth about these two matters.”

Noem’s office said it would be a violation of state law to comment on the board’s actions, citing a statute that keeps board records confidential unless the board decides to hold a hearing in a disputed case. .

The governor’s requests to the board, as well as the presence of a lawyer for Noem for the first time, showed a willingness to take action to have the charges dismissed. The board has broad powers, and if it decides that the complaints are valid, it can refer them for criminal investigation, subpoena evidence and testify, or ultimately hold a hearing in a disputed case.

Government Accountability Body has taken steps to self-isolate of conflicts of interest, while dealing with an issue involving the state’s most powerful political figures. Noem’s appointee to the board of directors, former Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court David Gilbertson, abstained from reviewing the complaints. The council’s attorney, Katie Mallery, was not allowed to advise the council because she works in the attorney general’s office.

If the board decides that laws may have been violated, state law requires that it refer a criminal investigation to the criminal investigation department. That would put the investigation under the supervision of the interim Attorney General, Mark Vargo, who was appointed by Noem after Ravnsborg was removed. The board may also choose to subpoena witnesses or hold a hearing in a disputed case if it may instead find “misconduct” rather than crime.

Vargo said in a statement: “Decisions regarding revocation, either from DCI or the office in general, will be made when the issue becomes apparent, not prior to a possible, hypothetical situation.”

It’s not always the case that a prosecutor should refrain from investigating someone who hired them, said Kathleen Clark, a law professor who specializes in government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. But, she said, the timing of Vargo’s appointment — while the board’s investigation was already underway — added an additional reason for denial.

“It seems to me that non-recovery would undermine the credibility of a decision in Noem’s favor, especially since she appointed this attorney general after this investigation had already begun,” Clark said.

Noem has also forged a political partnership with the likely next Attorney General, Republican Marty Jackley, with the pair exchanging endorsements earlier this year.

Ravnsborg showed an increasing willingness to file the complaints against Noem afterwards they got into a fight over his fatal car accident and she pressed hard on his accusation.

Ravnsborg’s first complaint came after that The Associated Press reported: that the governor took on a practical role in a state agency shortly after it moved to deny her daughter, Kassidy Peters, an appraiser license in 2020. Republican-controlled legislative committee concluded that Peters’s application received special treatment, but did not say whether Noem’s actions were appropriate.

The director of the Appraisal Certification Program, Sherry Bren, was pressured to retire soon after Peters got her license and eventually received a $200,000 settlement from the state to withdraw an age discrimination complaint.

The former Other Attorney General’s Complaint was fueled after news website rough story discovered that in 2019 Noem was using a state jet to travel to events hosted by political organizations, including the National Rifle Association and the Republican Jewish Coalition. South Dakota law prohibits the use of state aircraft for anything other than affairs of state.

Noem has said she traveled to the events as a state ambassador.

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