Chief justice asks for security upgrades at county courthouses across South Dakota

Capitol News Bureau

Chief Justice Steven Jensen speaks during the State of the Judiciary Wednesday.

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen called on state lawmakers for a one-time $5 million appropriation Wednesday for grants to improve security in county courthouses.

He also said in his State of the Judiciary message that the governor’s recommended 6% pay increase for state employees was “significant” and he supports it.

The chief justice delivered his remarks to a joint gathering of representatives and senators in the House chamber. Justices Scott Myren, Patricia DeVaney and Janine Kern listened near the front.

Jensen said Justice Kern and Justice DeVaney are leading a Unified Judicial System security committee developing a statewide security plan. He said UJS also hired Scott Sheldon, a former South Dakota Highway Patrol lieutenant and long-time member of the executive branch’s security team, as the state’s first-ever court security coordinator.

The UJS security committee is creating local security committees for courthouses across South Dakota, according to Jensen. He said each of the seven circuits has started with a pilot plan for one of its courthouses.

“The UJS security committee would use these funds” — the $5 million –“to administer grants to counties to cover seventy-five percent of the cost of approved security upgrades,” Jensen said.

“The initial security assessments conducted by the U.S. Marshal’s Service and Homeland Security at a few courthouses indicate that these security upgrades will be expensive. For example, the cost for security doors, ballistic glass and additional protections for courtrooms, clerks’ offices, and other locations in over 60 courthouses will add up quickly,” he continued.

“Breaking down the one-time requested appropriation between every courthouse works out to about $75,000 each. Some courthouses may not have a need for upgrades while others may need significantly more than $75,000 in upgrades.”

South Dakota is running short on court reporters who type verbatim transcripts of proceedings, Jensen said. South Dakota doesn’t have a court-reporter school and neighboring states have seen schools close. He said several court-reporter positions have been vacant for months, and half of South Dakota’s remaining reporters are likely to retire in the next five years.

“I doubt we will be able to replace all of these positions with professionally trained court reporters. Electronic recording does have a place, but the technology does not allow us to replace the necessary accuracy and reliability of a professionally trained court reporter in taking down court proceedings,” Jensen said. “We have a court reporter committee in place and we will continue to study this issue, as well as needed administrative support for our judges.”

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