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Lawmaker who will vote on impeachment gave legal advice to Ravnsborg

House lawmakers during floor session.
Lee Strubinger
House lawmakers during floor session.

House lawmakers meet next week to consider whether to impeach Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for his involvement in a fatal car crash.

One lawmaker who will cast a vote on impeachment says he offered counsel to Ravnsborg days after the incident.

Ravnsborg reached out to Rep. Scott Odenbach in the days following the fatal crash that took the life of Highmore resident Joe Boever.

Ravnsborg asked for input on a press release that was sent out to the public two days after the incident.

Odenbach is a Republican and estate lawyer from Spearfish. He told North Dakota special agents he gave Ravnsborg advice on the wording of the release.

“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.

“OK,” said North Dakota Special Agent Joe Arenz. “So, it was somewhat of a legal advice, there?”

“Yes, for sure, it was,” Odenbach said.

That audio was released last week by the House impeachment committee as part of a full investigation file on the crash.

Representative Scott Odenbach
Representative Scott Odenbach

Odenbach was running for office at the time of the incident and was later elected. Odenbach says he gave the press release some edits and sent it back to Ravnsborg. Odenbach says he's not a criminal defense lawyer and Ravnsborg did not pay him.

Odenbach attended law school with Ravnsborg and describes him as a friend. Odenbach tells SDPB News that the friendship 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.

Lawmakers meet on Tuesday to consider whether to impeach Ravnsborg.

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.
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