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South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice delivers address

Newly appointed South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen delivered his first ever State of the Judiciary address before a joint session of the South Dakota Legislature.
South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen addresses a joint session of the South...
South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen addresses a joint session of the South Dakota State Legislature. It was Jensen's first time delivering the State of the Judiciary address since he had assumed the position.(Austin Goss DNN/KOTA/KEVN)
Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 8:44 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - South Dakota has a new Supreme Court Chief Justice, and on Wednesday, Chief Justice Steven Jensen laid out the Unified Justice System’s (UJS) priorities.

Jensen led off his speech by paying tribute to the outgoing Chief Justice, David Gilbertson. Gilbertson had been on the court for over twenty years, and had spent a majority of that time as Chief Justice of the court.

Jensen said that Gilbertson’s name had been etched into the ceiling at the South Dakota Capitol’s Supreme Court library, with other impactful justices from South Dakota’s past.

“Fairness and a sense of justice are deeply embedded in the fabric of his being,” Jensen said speaking about Gilbertson. “(And) Have been demonstrated throughout his career as a lawyer, judge, and justice. I know I speak for all the members of the court when I say how much I appreciate his friendship, collegiality, and mentoring.”

Jensen said he wants to improve long-term security for South Dakota courts. Right now, six of South Dakota’s 66 counties, courthouses have full-time court security with protective measures in place for all courthouse visitors, according to a courthouse security committee formed by the UJS. Some have security when the court’s in session, others only when requested.

Additionally, Jensen said many South Dakota courthouses are due for a safety assessment, but there isn’t enough time or expertise to address and implement additional security measures.

Jensen’s solution is a full-time Court Security Coordinator. If the Legislature approves funding, the coordinator would be responsible for security in courthouses beginning in Fiscal Year 2022.

Jensen also asked the Legislature to consider raises for South Dakota judges this year, and to expand clerkship opportunities. The Chief Justice cited a growing case load due to population growth in South Dakota as his reason for wanting more clerks, namely in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties. Pay for South Dakota justices and circuit judges ranks 51st and 49th against the rest of the U.S. states and territories to include D.C., Jensen argued.

Governor Kristi Noem already accounted for many of these budget requests in her own budget.

Regionally, judges in Nebraska make almost $40,000 more, Wyoming and Minnesota judges around $30,000, and North Dakota and Iowa judges by over $15,000, Jensen said.

“I would respectfully suggest we should not trust the future of our justice system to luck,” Jensen said. “The functioning of our courts is too crucial and too important to just hope that we will find a good candidate for the next open judicial position.”

Members of the Appropriations committee said that they appreciated Jensen’s foreshadowing of his budget needs. Like all other state government entities, UJS will eventually testify before the Joint Committee on Appropriations on their budget requests.

“The dollars I am requesting for this appropriation are not large, but the need is significant to allow us to target positions where we are simply unable to offer competitive salaries,” he said.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has significantly changed since 2015, Scott Myren is the fifth new justice appointed since then. He was appointed in October 2020 to serve an eight-year term to replace the outgoing Chief Justice David Gilbertson’s spot on the court.

Justice Myren served as a circuit judge in the 5th Judicial Circuit for 17 years and has served as the presiding judge in the 5th Circuit for the past several years.

To read or watch the full address, click here.

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