In his last State of the Judiciary speech to lawmakers, S.D. chief justice goes out on top

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Pierre Capitol building legislature

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Chief Justice David Gilbertson received high praise from two of South Dakota’s top officials before he delivered his final State of the Judiciary speech Wednesday to a joint gathering of the Legislature.  

He has served as chief of the South Dakota Supreme Court for 19 years, the longest in the state’s history. 

“For many of us it is a bittersweet moment,” Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden said as he welcomed the chief justice. Rhoden, a former legislator from Union Center, called Gilbertson “a class act” and praised his integrity.

“It is an honor for me to call him a friend,” Rhoden said. 

A long applause and some whoops greeted Gilbertson as he stepped up to the speaker’s platform at the front of the House chamber. 

“I’m not sure I deserve it,” Gilbertson said as he received an official commemoration from House Speaker Steven Haugaard of Sioux Falls, a lawyer. 

Gilbertson in his remarks covered many of the programs and innovations in South Dakota’s courts system during the past decades.

“As times change, our response must change with them,” he told lawmakers.

The 1975 graduate of the University of South Dakota law school was appointed as a state circuit judge in 1986 by then-Gov. Bill Janklow. When governor again, Janklow named Gilbertson to the Supreme Court in 1995. 

“It is my regret that he is not alive today so I could say ‘thank you’ as I approach the end of my judicial career,” Gilbertson said near the close of his remarks Wednesday. 

State law requires justices to retire at age 70. Gilbertson said he will need to step down before the 2021 legislative session begins. He thanked his wife, Deborah, and their family. Lawmakers enjoyed his remarks about her.

In the introduction to his printed speech, Gilbertson wrote: “In my time as your Chief Justice the biggest change that has taken place in the state courts of South Dakota is that they have shifted their focus from being mainly reactive institutions to becoming proactive in many respects.”

He continued, “We no longer have the luxury of sitting in our courthouses and waiting for what challenges may come through the door.”

YouTube recordings of State of the Judiciary speeches since 2003 are available here. More information on the five current justices is here.

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