Capitol News Bureau

Speakers Recall Memories At Funeral For Justice Zinter

PIERRE, S.D. - Court-system offices at the Capitol were closed for several hours Monday so workers could watch the funeral for state Supreme Court Justice Steven Lee Zinter.

A Facebook livestream showed the service at Lutheran Memorial Church in Pierre just west of the state Capitol.

The 68-year-old Zinter died Tuesday in Minnesota after a surgery there. He had been a justice since 2002.

Several speakers recalled Zinter as both mischievous and exacting, both a prankster and a leader, whether as a boy or a grandfather.

Nephew Aaron Zinter remembered a family trip to Hawaii where the two began downing shots of tequila at dinner -- and how the justice's wife reacted.

"Sandy was less than impressed, as was the wait staff," Aaron said.

The justice spent decades in a wheelchair after he was injured in a swimming-pool accident.

"Steve never complained, ever," his nephew said.

Aaron spent time with the justice the night before his death. He said Steve was working and also trying to figure out how they might get a Thanksgiving meal into the post-surgery facility.

"He appeared in good health," the nephew said.

Chief Justice David Gilbertson, wearing the official black robe that people see at court proceedings, said Zinter celebrated the value of every day.

Gilbertson and Zinter were in the same class at the University of South Dakota law school.

Gilbertson said Zinter after the accident still drove the boat as he taught the Zinter daughters to water-ski and that the son of another lawyer learned how to put a Windsor knot in a tie.

Gilbertson said news reporters asked several times in the past week what was Zinter's greatest court opinion.

Gilbertson realized the answer was every opinion, because Zinter worked so thoroughly on each.

"He was totally dedicated to his calling," Gilbertson said, later adding: "He was a giant in the South Dakota judiciary and legal community."

Gov. Dennis Daugaard also made remarks during the eulogy. He said Zinter, who had been a circuit judge since 1987, received the Supreme Court appointment in 2002, the same year voters elected Daugaard lieutenant governor.

Daugaard said his father, who was deaf, worked hard as a farmer and then a janitor and Zinter didn't let his disability negatively define him either.

"He reached the pinnacle of his profession," the governor said. "He was committed to equal justice under the law, and he worked hard."

Younger brother Gary Zinter said Steve was the person that he and his sisters followed when they were schoolchildren.

"He set an example for us. If Steve could do it, we could do it," Gary said. "Steve was a boundary breaker."

Gary Zinter spoke about some of Steve's traits.

One was care for his personal appearance. He also was a risk-taker, going scuba diving and even ice diving.

Steve also wanted to get things right, whether it was purchasing binoculars or getting to the bottom of a court case.

The fourth was a no-quit attitude. Gary recalled the long list of jobs Steve had while still in high school and college.

Gary said that's how Steve could afford quality clothing, a BSA motorcycle and get his law degree.

Gary said the accident that put Steve in a wheelchair didn't end his hunting or fishing.

"We were the lucky ones," Gary said.

Steve Zinter was a long-time member of the Lutheran Memorial Church. Bishop David Zellmer remembered the day he met Zinter -- December 30, 1992 -- when Zellmer went to interview to be the church pastor. 

Zellmer also remembered getting the phone call Tuesday telling him the justice had died.

"For once in my life, I was speechless," Zellmer said.

Zellmer spoke of the nine hours the two men spent in a deer blind while a foot of snow fell outside. They talked of many things.

"He knew who he belonged to," the bishop said.

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