South Dakota lawmaker gave AG legal advice after fatal crash
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A lawmaker who will cast a vote next week on whether to impeach South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg says he gave him legal advice following Ravnsborg’s involvement in a fatal car crash.
Rep. Scott Odenbach, who at the time was running for the House seat he eventually won, says Ravnsborg reached out to him for input on a public statement that was released two days after the attorney general struck and killed Joe Boever, a pedestrian who was walking along a rural highway in September 2020.
Odenbach, a Republican and Spearfish attorney, told North Dakota special agents that he gave Ravnsborg advice on the wording of the statement, according to audio released recently with the file on the House impeachment committee’s findings.
“On this thing he did call and I did give him some counsel on kind of the best way forward on that in a capacity that I would characterize as his attorney,” Odenbach said to a special agent.
“OK,” said North Dakota Special Agent Joe Arenz. “So, it was somewhat of a legal advice, there?”
“Yes, for sure, it was,” Odenbach said.
Odenbach says his friendship with Ravnsborg and his informal legal advice do not preclude him from doing his job as a state representative, which includes considering impeachment.
Republican Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch says it’s up to Odenbach to decide whether to abstain.
“If he gave any sort of legal counsel and there’s some attorney-client privilege, that’s something he’ll have to deal with in terms of his client. I don’t know much about it, nor did I look into it because it was irrelevant to the case,” Gosch said.
The Legislature’s code of conduct says lawmakers must avoid any conflict of interest which would interfere with their duties and responsibilities as legislators, or with the exercise of their best judgment in support of the state.
The Republican-controlled impeachment committee voted on party lines to issue a report that found his actions did not merit impeachment.
Lawmakers in the full House meet on Tuesday to consider whether to impeach Ravnsborg.
The attorney general has cast Boever’s death as a tragic accident and pleaded no contest last year to a pair of traffic misdemeanors in the crash.
Ravnsborg initially reported the crash as a collision with an animal and has said he did not realize he struck a man until he returned to the scene the next day and discovered his body. Criminal investigators doubted that account, but prosecutors said they were unable to prove that Ravnsborg realized he killed a man the night of the crash.