Randy Seiler for Attorney General
By: Roger Larsen of the Plainsman
PHOTO BY ROGER LARSEN/PLAINSMAN
HURON – A long career as a private attorney and as a prosecutor of hundreds of state and federal cases has led Randy Seiler to want to become South Dakota’s next attorney general.
It’s a decision that stays true to a personal commitment he made decades ago in Vietnam – that when his military service was over, he would come back to his home state and give back to his community and state.
“My career has focused generally along those lines,” he said at the District 22 Democratic Forum on Thursday.
As attorney general, he said his priorities would be addressing drug addiction with treatment and recovery programs, pushing for more state government transparency, streamlining the consumer protection division and keeping South Dakota children safe.
Seiler grew up in Herreid, a small Campbell County town in north central South Dakota. When a major federal court case was tried in the community’s main street theater, he played hooky from school and observed the attorneys argue their positions from a seat in the back row.
“That stayed with me over the years and I’ve just been so impressed in terms of the law as an instrument for social change, the law as an instrument in terms of what it means to us in our society,” he said.
But Seiler said it’s been painful for him to see the rule of law under attack.
“The intersection of law and politics is sometimes a very difficult intersection in terms of balancing one versus the other,” he said.
If elected, he pledges to never play politics with the rule of law.
“I don’t intend to use the attorney general’s office as a platform for higher office,” he said. “I have no political aspirations. I do not plan to run for governor.
“I just want to be your lawyer and do the best job I can representing the people of the state of South Dakota,” Seiler said.
After high school, he enrolled at South Dakota State University, unsure what career path to pursue at that time. He admits he wasn’t a good student. When he was drafted, he joined the Air Force, where he served three and a half years, including one tour in Vietnam.
He came home and went back to college where he earned a degree in criminal justice. His first foray into politics was a job in the Kneip administration in the 1970s.
When that job ended, Seiler went to the University of South Dakota School of Law, where he excelled and graduated with honors.
After clerking for a federal judge in Sioux Falls, he opted to return to Herreid where his aging parents still lived rather than accepting any of the job offers he got from bigger city law firms. It’s a decision he says he has never regretted.
Seiler spent 14 years as a street lawyer in his hometown, then was hired as an assistant United States attorney.
“It’s been a huge experience in terms of my trial experience,” he said.
He has also been chief deputy in the United States attorney’s office, and was United States attorney until President Trump’s election. Since then he has filled in as Hughes County state’s attorney and remains under contract as deputy state’s attorney and as attorney for the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Sioux tribes.
On the first felony court day when he was Hughes County state’s attorney, lawyers and the judge worked through 39 felony cases, 38 of which had a methamphetamine connection.
“Methamphetamine is what’s driving our criminal justice system today,” Seiler said.
“It’s readily apparent, I think, that you can’t treat addiction with incarceration,” he said. “We have to do something differently than we’re currently doing.”
He says that doesn’t mean giving drug dealers a pass; they need to be behind bars for a long time, he said.
Seiler said he will work with the established task forces in a strong enforcement effort against those who sell drugs, but also work on prevention programs. It is not necessarily something impacting only young people. The addiction rate is highest among those in the 35- to 45-year-old age range, he said.
Public corruption issues will also be a priority, he said.
State officials should not be able to feather their own nest after leaving government positions for private consulting businesses and have no-bid contracts because of their time with the state, he said.
He cites the EB-5 and Mid-Central Cooperative scandals.
“It’s not just white collar crime in terms of somebody getting away with something,” Seiler said. “In both of those instances there were real human tragedies.”
Seiler said he’s been asked his opinion on school sentinel programs, in which teachers are armed.
“If it keeps children safe and it’s a decision made by the local school district, local school officials and parents, maybe that’s the solution for that particular school district,” he said.
Statistics also show that 4,000 children are sexually abused in South Dakota every year, he said.
“If we had 4,000 children coming down with some disease every year, we would be up in arms, storming around and demanding a solution,” Seiler said.
If it involves looking at confidential agreements that have been entered into, for example, with members of the clergy, for example, he said the state owes it to the children to do that.
September 23, 2018 by Calvin Cutler
RAPID CITY – Democratic candidates for the offices of Attorney General, US House of Representatives, and the South Dakota Governor’s office were in Rapid City on Saturday for the Democratic Roundup.
The polls are open for early voting across the state, and the Democratic candidates met with voters at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center to re-iterated their platforms. The potential leaders also used the meeting to
Tim Bjorkman, a former judge who faces Republican Dusty Johnson for the US House of Representatives, has made it a core principal of his campaign to avoid Super PAC money.
“I wouldn’t take a dime of any special interest money, because I want to go there to fight the special interests who are controlling congress and keeping our pharmaceutical and healthcare costs so high,” said Bjorkman.
Attorney General candidate Randy Seiler faces Republican Jason Ravnsborg. He stressed the need to fight public corruption and alleviate the meth epidemic with treatment instead of punishment.
“Drug dealers don’t respect jurisdictional boundaries, and neither can law enforcement,” Seiler said. “The task force approach across South Dakota, we want to put a renewed emphasis on that so we can get the drug dealers.”
Gubernatorial candidate Billie Sutton, who faces Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem, gave a message of unity for the state’s Democrats and Republicans.
“They’re tired of the Republican versus Democrat narrative,” Sutton said. “I’ve worked across the aisle every day in the legislature to bring people together. We’ve accomplished some really good things by working together.”
On The Other Hand with Kevin Woster on Sep 14, 2018
“Evil lives in the dark. It hates the light. It hates transparency.”
— Father Ed Witt, St. Issac Jogues Catholic Church
These are stories I hate to write, but also stories I can’t avoid.
They are stories about the church I love, and the dark spot on its soul.
I hope someday to write stories of confession and repentance — and penance, too — on a scale we’ve never seen in the Catholic Church, or beyond.
That’s big-story stuff. Church-changing stuff. Life-altering stuff.
This is just one small story out of many, written in this case by a Catholic who interviewed three other Catholics who just happen to be particularly relevant to the sexual-abuse stain on the Catholic Church and what it means here in South Dakota.
What, perhaps, it should mean, too.
Let’s start with Marty Jackley, a Sturgis native and Pierre resident who is just a few months from the end of his second four-year term as South Dakota attorney general. He’s also the past chairman of the National Association of Attorneys General.
As you can imagine, the subject of sexual abuse and coverups in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is a subject of widespread discussion among state attorneys general and the association that represents them across the nation.
The focus, of course, is on the report released last month by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro on a grand jury investigation into sexual abuse and coverups involving six dioceses in the state going back 70 years. The investigation determined that more than 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children during that time.
Most of those cases were decades ago. Much has been done in the Catholic Church and in society as a whole to make things safer for children and other vulnerable people. It’s not the church it was in 1940 or 1950 or 1960 or 1979. It’s not the nation it was, either.
But the things that happened, the things that were allowed to happen and the things that were covered up — in some instances in a veil of secrecy that endured far beyond the crimes themselves — were mind-numbing.
The numbers in the Pennsylvania report, and the many credible or proven cases against priests who are either dead or gone from priesthood, are staggering. It is inspiring other state attorneys general to start or consider starting investigations or inquiries of their own. They include Nebraska, where Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson is asking the archbishop and two bishops at the three Catholic diocese in the state to produce records of sexual abuse or exploitation claims going back 40 years.
Which seemed like a fair time to ask Jackley and the two candidates for his job — Democrat Randy Seiler and Republican Jason Ravnsborg — whether South Dakota should be doing the same. We have, after all, had our horrid cases of abuse here, too. And, like most states, most instances were many years ago.
Which doesn’t mean the pain has ended, or even faded, for many victims. Nor does it mean the sordid behavior of some clerics, or the failures of supervisors to face them, should be ignored. Of course, they shouldn’t be. They can’t be.
First, Marty Jackley, who says he and other attorneys general are watching what goes on in other states and considering possible options for their own. When asked if he would seek general information from dioceses in South Dakota on past sexual-abuse cases, Jackley says he’s not inclined to take such action without some indication that criminal acts have occurred and been ignored, missed or covered up.
But he doesn’t rule out a general request for records, either.
“I’ve left all options open. I’m waiting to hear from other attorneys general and what they’re doing, in those state’s where they’ve found problems,” Jackley says. “It’s not uncommon for something that happens in one state to affect the way we operate in another state.”
Jackley says he stays in touch with other AGs through the national organization’s network.
“That’s part of the conversation we’re having at the national level — is what the appropriate approach is,” Jackley said. “At this point, we’re looking at the existing investigations and what’s being learned there. I’ll be talking to the other AGs and seeing their approach. Typically, law enforcement has to have an allegation to begin an inquiry.”
Jason Ravnsborg (pronounced ROWNDZ-berg) said that if elected, he would take an approach similar to Jackley’s and be more likely to take action based on allegations of abuse. He pointed out that there were such allegations in Nebraska and other states he has read about.
“I would think we need a victim first, or a voluntary admission by the church that they were dismissing someone for something inappropriate, before opening up an investigation,” Ravnsborg said. “Obviously, once a victim came forward, that’s a different story. Then we’ve have an obligation to look into it.”
That would be true, Ravnsborg said, whether the sexual-abuse allegations involved a church, a school or even in a home.
“Abusing children is one of the worst crimes there is,” he said. “With a victim we would definitely investigate. As for before that, I’d be more toward Mr. Jackley.”
Randy Seiler would be more aggressive in his approach. Seiler, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted cases of sexual-abuse against children, said protecting the vulnerable is the overriding concern.
“As a former U.S. attorney and candidate for attorney general, I’m interested in holding perpetrators accountable,” says Seiler. “I’m interested in looking at whether criminal acts have been committed.”
So while being ready to act on any allegation, Seiler said he would also seek a general review of church records on sexual-abuse allegations, looking for indications that sexual abuse has gone unreported and unpunished in the two Catholic dioceses in South Dakota.
Seiler said he would even be interested in seeing the specifics behind civil settlements reached between the church and those who said they were abused.
“The overriding consideration in all of these cases for me as a prosecutor and attorney general candidate is keeping South Dakota children safe. That’s the end game. That’s the goal,” Seiler said. “Are there individuals who may still be preying on children in our state, committing sexual acts with children? I think the state does have a role to play there, in terms of keeping children safe and holding perpetrators responsible for their actions.”
Seiler said he believes the decision on whether to release specifics of confidential civil settlements should rest with the alleged victims, not the Catholic Church. He also said he would consider using a statewide grand jury if that were helpful in an investigation, to make sure all allegations or indications of abuse have been thoroughly examined.
Jackley said he supports more transparency by the church and the idea of strengthening the relationship between the church and state law enforcement to assure children and others are being protected and nothing criminal has been or is being missed.
Asked about a statewide grand jury, Jackley said that would seem to need allegations or evidence of a crime or crimes.
“You can use a grand jury to investigate, but in order to do that there would have to be a level of evidence that has been submitted to the attorney general’s office,” Jackley said. “There has to be an allegation and some supportive level of proof to justify an investigative grand jury or a grand jury for the purpose of probable-cause finding.”
On the idea of examining confidential agreements between the church and those who said they were victimized, Jackley said those are typically sealed by the courts. And courts would have to unseal them, for a reason.
“I’d have to seek court approval or permission to look at the document,” he said. “In order to do that, I’d have to explain why to a judge.”
Probable cause or credible allegations would be the kind of reasons given, Jackley said. That fact that most abuse occurred decades ago complicates the matter.
Seiler said he doesn’t think confidential agreements give anyone “a pass” on being held accountable for criminal acts. He said state statutes of limitations do not apply to first- and second-degree rape. So if there’s evidence of that, criminal cases could still be pursued if alleged perpetrators were alive, Seiler said.
Such things as groping and molestation would come under sexual contact, where there are statutes of limitations — seven years from commission of the offense or the alleged victim reaching age 25, whichever is longer.
“That’s why professional prosecutors at the state’s attorney’s or attorney general’s level should be looking at these agreements, to see whether an act falls outside the statute of limitations, whether a criminal action can be commenced or whether it has been extinguished by a statute of limitations,” Seiler said. “Nobody has immunity from the rule of law. Nobody. I intend to follow it faithfully and honestly wherever it leads and make decisions based on the evidence.”
So what does the church, my church, here in South Dakota have to say about this? I reached out this morning by email to Bishop Robert Gruss of the Catholic Diocese of Rapid City. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’d expect to eventually.
I also called the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, where I spoke to Chancellor Matt Altoff. He said if the attorney general of South Dakota or other law enforcement agencies seek information from the diocese they can expect cooperation.
“It’s not only our policy, it’s our practice. We have a history of cooperating with law enforcement,” he said. “That doesn’t apply only to clerics. So in recent times we can point to where we had a lay minister where there were concerns, and we took that information to the local jurisdiction.”
Altoff said he didn’t feel comfortable talking about the outcome of that report, preferring to leave it to the law enforcement agency. But he did say that any information on improper behavior by priests or lay ministers would be shared with authorities.
“If we were aware of something like that, the attorney general would know about it, or local law enforcement would know about it,” Altoff said. “We wouldn’t sit on that kind of information. We would immediately go to law enforcement.”
It’s a much different process within the church than it was when most abuse was occurring.
“We encourage going to law enforcement if somebody has a concern, rather than going to church officials,” Altoff said.
On the idea of allowing the attorney general and other law-enforcement officers to view records on past confidential settlements, Altoff said the diocese would agree to such transparancy, but only if the victims wanted it.
“Anytime there has been a settlement reached and it came with a confidentiality agreement, it was at the request of the victim,” Altoff said. “So consent would have to be received from the victim. We’re bound by that. The victim deserves to have his or her wishes upheld. And if their wish is confidentiality, we’re going to uphold it.”
Seiler agrees that the victims should decide. But if they’re willing, he’s interested in seeing that information.
As I noted above, Seiler, Ravnsborg and Jackley are all Catholics. They all served as altar boys when they were kids — Seiler in Herreid, Ravnsborg at St. John’s Parish in Quimby, Iowa, and Jackley at St. Francis Catholic Church in Sturgis.
“I had a wonderful experience,” Jackley said. “I never witnessed anything inappropriate to me or any other altar boy.”
Seiler and Ravnsborg had similar altar-server experiences. And that’s the story of most altar servers. The vast majority, in fact.
Others however, suffered trauma the likes of which the rest of us can only imagine, at the hands of men whose duty was to guide and protect them. And decades later, those victims are still dealing with the pain.
While the church and all of us in it deal with the stain.
By Stephen Lee firstname.lastname@example.org
Republican AG candidate Jason Ravnsborg talking with uniformed officers in the DPS tent.
Sometimes the GOP’s tent gets maybe too big in South Dakota.
Trevor Jones, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, has apologized to the public and to Randy Seiler, Democratic candidate for state attorney general, for inviting the Republican AG candidate Jason Ravnsborg into the DPS tent to emcee an event this past weekend at the State Fair.
Democrats hold no state offices and have been much less successful than Republicans in the state for decades. This year, Seiler is considered a strong candidate, based in part on his years of experience as a prosecutor under Republican and Democratic U.S. attorneys and Ravnsborg’s relative lack of experience.
But Seiler told the Capital Journal he asked Attorney General Marty Jackley to open a criminal investigation over the matter and is filing a complaint with the state ethics commission.
Seiler, a Fort Pierre attorney who capped a long career as a federal prosecutor with two years as U.S. attorney for South Dakota, said that on Sunday at the State Fair in Huron.
Jones was at the Highway Patrol’s booth for “an official government department event. It was advertised as such (telling people) to come and meet all the officials of the department.”
“Trevor goes to the Republican Party headquarters and invites Jason to come be emcee,” Seiler said. Ravnsborg “got to wear his official campaign shirt. . . He took a bunch of photos and posted them on his own website and he was speaking at the mic. I think it’s a violation of state law.”
“Using state resources to influence an election is a violation of South Dakota Codified Law,” Seiler said in a statement. “I find it disappointing and alarming that leadership within the Department of Public Safety used extremely poor judgement in politicizing a State Fair event, the Department of Public Safety, and the Highway Patrol. Doing so put on-duty law enforcement officers in an uncomfortable and compromising situation. This is the kind of cronyism and corrupt behavior that has infected our state government.”
“I’m filing an ethics complaint,” Seiler told the Capital Journal, referring to the state Government Accountability Board.
Ravnsborg (it’s pronounced “Rounsborg”) did not return messages from the Capital Journal on Tuesday — or from other news organizations, reportedly — asking about Seiler’s concerns.
He had posted photos, tweets and otherwise, on his campaign’s social media pages, including one of him talking with uniformed officers in the DPS tent and this message:
“Awesome day Sunday at the State Fair! I had the honor of introducing some of law enforcement’s finest! THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO!”
Seiler said he was in the Democrat Party booth Sunday at the Fair, also campaigning, and wasn’t invited by Jones to the DPS tent.
So he called Jones about it in Pierre on Tuesday and Jones apologized, Seiler said.
In a letter dated Sept. 4 to Seiler, Jones wrote:
“I would like to apologize for my lapse in judgement related to Department of Public Safety (DPS) Day on Sunday at the South Dakota State Fair. This is the department’s third year as a day-sponsor at the State Fair. Our goal at the fair is to promote and inform citizens on the various ways they can stay safe as well as to allow fairgoers to interact with Highway Patrol troopers and other DPS staff.”
“During DPS day, I am often called upon to introduce the individuals conducting the various activities and demonstrations that take place in the day-sponsor tent. As I was returning to the tent to make another introduction for the Highway Patrol canine demonstration, I ran into Mr. Ravnsborg and, on the spur of the moment, invited him to make the introduction in order to give the audience a break from me.”
“I had no intention of showing support for any particular candidate; however, I know that my choice was viewed differently. I apologize.”
“The people at the Department of Public Safety are the same people you meet on the campaign trail. They are good, hard working individuals who put in a hard day’s work then go home and care for their families. The State Fair is our opportunity to interact with them, thank them, and relay some important safety information.”
“Randy, most importantly, I consider you a friend, a friendship formed over the years. It is my hope this oversight will not cause a permanent fracture between us. My actions should not be seen as a reflection on the employees of the Department of Public Safety, who dedicate their lives every day to protecting our citizens. I wish you the best. Sincerely, (Trevor Jones.)
Jones was not available to talk to any reporters on Tuesday, instead releasing a similar, if shorter, apology as the one he sent Seiler:
“Last Sunday at the State Fair, I ran into a candidate for Attorney General and on the spur-of-the-moment, invited him to introduce the Highway Patrol canine demonstration. It was a lapse in judgement on my part and I apologize. It was not intended to demonstrate support for any particular candidate and should not reflect on the hard-working employees of the Department of Public Safety.”
A longtime prosecutor, Seiler says it maybe is a criminal matter. He talked to Attorney General Marty Jackley on Tuesday. ‘I told him I was filing an ethics complaint . . . about using state resources to promote a campaign for the Republican candidate and to request a criminal investigation. “
He said Jackley referred him to the assistant attorney general who works with the government accountability board about how to file the documents.
Jackley told him “he wants to look at the statutes” before deciding and suggested Seiler contact the local prosecutor, the Beadle County state’s attorney in Huron, Seiler said.
The law broken, Seiler says, is SDCL 12-27-20, that reads: “Expenditure of public funds to influence election outcome prohibited. The state, an agency of the state, and the governing body of any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state may not expend or permit the expenditure of public funds for the purpose of influencing the nomination or election of any candidate, or for the petitioning of a ballot question on the ballot or the adoption or defeat of any ballot question. This section may not be construed to limit the freedom of speech of any officer or employee of the state or any political subdivision who is speaking in the officer’s or employee’s personal capacity. This section does not prohibit the state, its agencies, or the governing body of any political subdivision of the state from presenting factual information solely for the purpose of educating the voters on a ballot question.”
Seiler said Ravnsborg appeared to have been campaigning in the DPS event, using state employees “on duty,” for his campaign.
Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, tweeted that he was at the event and “Jason clearly was campaigning when he addressed the crowd.”
Democratic activists were working the wires Tuesday, including Cory Heidelberger who blogs at DakotaFreePress.com, pointing out the incident illustrates perhaps that Ravnsborg is unfamiliar with state laws, part of the inexperience critics have said he has too much of.
A lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves who served in the Middle East, Ravnsborg is a Yankton attorney.
On Aug. 17, Seiler was campaigning in Fort Pierre at the state 4-H finals rodeo weekend and was awarded a rodeo buckle by state 4-H leaders for his pro bono legal work for state 4-H rodeo the past year.
He was photographed with 4-H leaders and the buckle, while wearing his campaign shirt, which he was wearing because he was campaigning at the big weekend rodeo in his hometown.
But that’s not illegal, Seiler said on Tuesday, because 4-H is a private nonprofit organization.
“That’s different. 4-H is not a state-sponsored agency, there weren’t any state government funds involved.”
Jonathan Ellis, Sioux Falls Argus Leader
(Photo: Briana Sanchez / Argus Leader)
The secretary of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety has apologized to the Democratic attorney general candidate for inviting his opponent to participate in an event at the State Fair.
Secretary Trevor Jones issued the apology to Randy Seiler on Tuesday, two days after Jones invited Republican attorney general candidate Jason Ravnsborg to introduce a Highway Patrol canine event during public safety day at the fair.
“Last Sunday at the State Fair, I ran into a candidate for Attorney General and on the spur-of-the-moment, invited him to introduce the Highway Patrol canine demonstration,” Jones said in a statement released by the Department of Public Safety. “It was a lapse in judgement on my part and I apologize. It was not intended to demonstrate support for any particular candidate and should not reflect on the hard-working employees of the Department of Public Safety.”
Seiler, a longtime prosecutor and former U.S. attorney for South Dakota, said he received a personal letter of apology from Jones.
“It doesn’t satisfy me,” Seiler said.
More: South Dakota Republicans pick nominee for top prosecutor post after heated contest
State law forbids the use of state resources for political purposes. Seiler said the event violated that law. He said it was another example of “cronyism” and “business as usual” in the state’s political system.
Seiler noted that Jones visited the Republican Party tent at the State Fair, but did not visit the Democratic Party tent. The commander of the Highway Patrol knew at least an hour before the event that Ravnsborg had been invited to introduce it, according to Seiler.
“It’s not just, ‘Ah shucks. I had a lapse in judgment,’” Seiler said.
In his note to Seiler, Jones said he hoped the incident doesn’t cause a “permanent fracture” between the two men.
“I had no intention of showing support for any particular candidate; however, I know that my choice was viewed differently,” Jones wrote. “I apologize.”