Supreme Court says South Dakota Senate can hold disciplinary hearingby Cara Hetland, Minnesota Public Radio
The South Dakota Supreme Court says the state Senate can proceed with disciplinary hearings against a lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct. The Senate wants to investigate allegations that Sen. Dan Sutton engaged in sexual misconduct with a teenage page. Lawmakers have already scheduled hearing dates.
Sioux Falls, S.D. — The South Dakota Senate asked the state Supreme Court to step into the dispute, to decide whether the Senate can investigate one of its own members. The Senate adopted rules that determine how to discipline members. South Dakota's Attorney General Larry Long says the Supreme Court ruling confirms that the Senate can govern itself.
"They can make those rules to govern themselves internally and they can enforce those rules," Long says.
Lawyers for Sen. Dan Sutton (D-Flandreau) got a temporary court order last week that forced the Senate to suspend its investigation. Sutton's lawyers argued that nothing in the South Dakota constitution or state laws gives the Senate authority to expel a member, except conduct that results in a criminal conviction. Sutton has not been charged or convicted of any crime.
The Division of Criminal Investigation has had the case since last March when a teenage page first reported the alleged sexual misconduct. The Attorney General won't release his findings and has not filed charges against Sen. Sutton. Larry Long says he cannot comment on the investigation but he says that even if a lawmaker didn't violate a criminal law, they should be held to higher standards.
"The fact that the Senate holds its members to a higher standard than criminal conduct I think is perfectly appropriate and if one of the members has transgressed those rules, I think it's perfectly appropriate that the Senate enforce them," Long says.
The South Dakota Senate appointed a select committee to investigate the allegations against Senator Sutton. Sen. Ed Olson (R-Mitchell) is also chairman of the executive board. Olson says the committee will hold hearings for three days starting next Tuesday.
"I issued about 7 subpoenas and those witnesses will come forth and they'll be telling us what they know," Olson says. "It's not a trial it's just for us to get to the bottom of this."
While the hearing is not a trial, under the rules of the Senate, witnesses can be cross-examined. Olson says the committee will have open hearings and will make its recommendation to the full Senate the following week. The recommendation can range from exoneration to expulsion. Sutton's lawyers did not return a phone call for this story but have said Sutton did not do anything wrong and they are prepared for a hearing.
- All Things Considered, 01/18/2007, 5:20 p.m.