PIERRE, S.D. (SDBA) — South Dakota’s judicial system has successfully used specialty courts to divert at-risk individuals from prison into productive lives.
That’s according to South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Steven R. Jensen, who gave the annual State of the Judiciary Address to a joint session of the legislature this morning (Wednesday).
Jensen says the drug, DUI, veterans, and mental health courts have helped offenders have successful lives. Jensen recognized three people who have gone through the “problem-solving” courts.
The Chief Justice also outlined a proposal to start to take some financial burden from counties for indigent defense by the state picking up appeals and a few other legal matters. He said counties are funding nearly 100 percent of indigent defense, and the proposed change would reduce that burden by about $600,000. Jensen added that South Dakota is currently the only state that does not have a statewide indigent defense system.
Jensen also sounded the alarm about increasing threats against judges and court personnel inside and outside of court. He said two South Dakota judges faced credible threats recently, with incidents rising across the nation.
“Protecting staff is about protecting the administration of justice,” Jensen said, as well as protecting court personnel.
The jurist also touched on a proposal that would allow law students who wish to pursue a career in public service or practice in an underserved area. They would not have to pass the state’s bar exam.
“Other than saving money, why do this?” Jensen asked. “It’s a practical problem, judges have trouble finding attorneys for indigent defense. Six counties have no attorneys.
The Chief Justice also said increasing caseloads in the Second Judicial Circuit, which includes Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties, calls for another judge and another assistant clerk of courts. The proposal is included in Gov. Kristi Noem’s budget for the next fiscal year.