Family, colleagues reflect upon Mark Meierhenry’s legal legacy

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Former state Attorney General Mark Meierhenry is being remembered as a mentor, who was generous with his time, and a champion of everyday South Dakotans. Meierhenry died this week of a lengthy illness at his Sioux Falls home, surrounded by family.

Todd Meierhenry says his dad Mark’s passion for the law inspired him to follow in his legal footsteps and become an attorney himself.

“There wasn’t pressure. He said go do something where you enjoy the people you work with and hanging around a lot of lawyers, I like lawyers and so I became one,” attorney Todd Meierhenry said.

Mark Meierhenry served as South Dakota’s attorney general from 1979 to 1987. He began his career as a legal aid lawyer, where his advocacy for people without means became a lifelong pursuit.

“And he fought hard, he fought the federal government for those who couldn’t afford to go pay an expensive lawyer and he took those ideals with him to the state,” Meierhenry said.

Meierhenry had a reputation for taking tough cases that other attorneys wouldn’t touch.

“Somebody would come in with a new case and they’d pitch him on it and it would be something that maybe three other lawyers turned down because it was too hard, or it was too novel, and Mark’s common line was oh, this is going to be fun! Right,” law partner Clint Sargent said.

“If you don’t do what we say we’re going to withhold your highway money, well, that’s a heck of a way to run a country,” Mark Meierhenry said in 1987.

Meierhenry argued 8 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, his last time in 2000, witnessed by law partner Clint Sargent.

“To watch your mentor do it was incredible and he was a warrior. I remember Justice Scalia came after him and it was a great legal wrangling that they had,” Sargent said.

Meierhenry retired from practicing law last summer. But his thoughts on the law, and on the people of South Dakota, remained with him, to the very end.

“He wrote in his journal one of the last days, a life well-lived is enough. And I think that summed-up that he was proud of his family, proud of his law partners and businesses that he created and that he was just satisfied with his life,” Todd Meierhenry said.

Mark Meierhenry’s granddaughter completed her bar exam on the same day he died, ensuring that a new generation of Meierhenrys would pursue a legal career.

A public visitation with the family will be held on Tuesday, from 4-7 p.m. at Miller Funeral Home’s south-side chapel.

On August 5, flags at the South Dakota State Capitol will be flown at half-staff in honor of Meierhenry.

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