Governor: Judge DeVaney topped list for South Dakota Supreme Court

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Judge Patricia Devaney

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Circuit Judge Patricia DeVaney was one of several candidates from which Governor Kristi Noem had to choose for an open seat on the South Dakota Supreme Court this week.

That’s because of a change made 46 years ago to the South Dakota Constitution.

The state’s voters in 1972 established the Commission on Judicial Qualifications and said it must submit at least two names from which a governor must choose.

The commission’s responsibilities on appointments also include screening and interviewing applicants for those vacancies.

Judge DeVaney, who lives in Pierre, succeeds the late Justice Steven Zinter, who died last year. Governor Dennis Daugaard appointed DeVaney as a circuit judge in 2012.

Governor Noem, who took office January 5, is the first woman to serve as state government’s chief executive.

She said Friday that Judge DeVaney clearly stood out.

“Her background and experience is outstanding. She came with very high recommendations from everyone across the board for the position. We interviewed a lot of really good candidates,” Noem said.

“What she will bring to the Supreme Court will be invaluable in experience and perspective,” Noem continued.

DeVaney previously served in the state attorney general’s office from 1993 to 2012 as a trial lawyer and an appellate lawyer.

She will be the fourth woman to be a member of the South Dakota Supreme Court. She follows Judith Meierhenry and Lori Wilbur, who are now retired, and joins current Justice Janine Kern.

The court has five seats. DeVaney will be its fifty-second member.

As governor, Noem has selected three women and one man for judicial vacancies. She said whether a person is a woman or a man hasn’t been a factor in any of the judicial appointments she’s made.

“When I’m looking at these appointments I’m always choosing the person that I feel is the best candidate for the position. I don’t give any specific consideration for gender, and in this situation, Judge DeVaney was the best candidate and the best person to put on the Supreme Court,” Noem said.

The high court’s three other members are:

Chief Justice David Gilbertson, appointed by then-Governor Bill Janklow in April 1995;

Justice Steven Jensen, appointed by Governor Daugaard in September 2017; and

Justice Mark Salter, appointed by Daugaard in May 2018.

Daugaard appointed Justice Kern in November 2014. 

Governors have named eight people to the state Supreme Court since 2000. They included Zinter in 2002 and Meierhenry in 2002, and Glen Severson, by Governor Mike Rounds, in 2009.

Chief Justice Gilbertson said Friday he and incoming Justice DeVaney plan to meet next week about the transition.

“I am sure the date of her investiture (swearing-in) will come up. Legally there is no specific date mandated by statute,” the chief justice said.

According to Gilbertson, several considerations come into play in the transition.

“After Justice Zinter’s sudden death last fall I was able to call upon retired Justices to fill in for a month at a time. Justice Severson sat with us in January, Justice (John) Konenkamp in February, Justice Severson in March with Justice Wilbur available for April and Justice Meierhenry available for May,” the chief justice said.

Unusual circumstances also exist in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, where Judge DeVaney has served since 2012, according to Gilbertson.

“Judge Mark Barnett has just retired. Kristina Clinger will replace him next Friday. Presiding Judge John Brown is scheduled to retire June 8. With only four circuit judges in this very large judicial circuit coverage of all counties is important,” the chief said.

He continued, “I am sure that the timing of Justice-Designate DeVaney’s investiture will take into consideration the judicial needs of both the Sixth Circuit and the Supreme Court.  Another consideration historically is the family schedules of the justice-designate and her family.”

In the news release announcing the governor’s appointment, Judge DeVaney stated:

“It is a great honor and privilege to spend the rest of my legal career serving South Dakota as a justice of the Supreme Court.

“I started my legal career as a young lawyer many years ago in the State Capitol building, and I am honored to return to the Capitol to serve in this new capacity as a justice. I am very grateful that Governor Noem has entrusted me with this opportunity.”

Chief Justice Gilbertson said there was another factor that could affect when Judge DeVaney joins the Supreme Court.

“One other relevant consideration is whether the justice-designate has major pending litigation in front of her as a circuit court judge.  Such litigation can be very complex and it is often easier for the justice-designate to finish the case in circuit court rather than bringing in another judge at the 11th hour,” he said.

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