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Supreme Court to determine fate of former Attorney General's law license

Former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg testifies before the South Dakota Supreme Court on Wednesday.
David Bordewyk
South Dakota News Media Association
Former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg testifies before the South Dakota Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The fate of Jason Ravnsborg’s law license is now in the hands of the South Dakota Supreme Court.

The state bar is recommending a temporary suspension of his law license.

Former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg struck and killed Highmore resident Joe Boever in September of 2020. State lawmakers impeached and removed him from office in 2022.

The state bar wants to suspend Ravnsborg’s law license for 26 months—a similar timeframe for how long former Gov. Bill Janklow went without his license following a fatal crash.

The state Supreme Court questioned Ravnsborg during a disciplinary hearing Wednesday morning.

Ravnsborg strongly disagreed with the disciplinary board and legislature’s findings he lacked candor with law enforcement following the crash—that law enforcement says took place completely on the shoulder of the road.

“It still doesn’t make sense to me, but I took responsibility," Ravnsborg said. "I still know that I went to the right after impact and that is not in their findings. So, at that moment, during the interview when they said, ‘You’re way off the road.’ That’s when it hit me, ‘Hey, they could be lying to you. They’re allowed to do that.’”

Ravnsborg’s defense lawyer argued he exercised his right not to incriminate himself. Ravnsborg said he believed the criminal investigation did not affect his ability to do his job.

Justice Steven Jensen also asked the attorney general about remaining in office during what Jensen called a homicide investigation.

Ravnsborg said he decided to stay in office for several reasons, including two investigations into the governor’s office.

“There was a lot of discussion about if I took a leave of absence was the office vacant? Could the governor, then, appoint someone to fill that role in the interim. Obviously if I resigned that was the case and it was vacant. But, there was a legal question at the time," Ravnsborg said. "We had ongoing matters concerning the governor’s office at the time. We thought they would be hampered if I took a leave of absence.”

The state bar said Ravnsborg’s conduct was detrimental to the legal profession.

Ravnsborg told the court he believes the disciplinary matter should be dismissed.

Ravnsborg said he still has a residence in the state but is on military duty out of state.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.