Former Supreme Court Justice Richard Sabers’ legal legacy

Local News

SIOUX FALLS (KELO) — Former South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Richard Sabers is being remembered as having a great legal mind and serving as an inspiration to many in the profession, including his own daughter. Sabers died this week at the age of 83. Sabers served on the state Supreme Court from 1986 to 2008, making him one of the longest-serving justices in state history. His impact on the legal landscape, as well as on his friends and family, will be lasting.

Richard Sabers followed an unusual career path in taking his seat on the South Dakota Supreme Court. He was the first justice in the state to go directly from private practice to the high court, without first serving as a circuit court judge.

“What it said was he was a really good lawyer that was respected by the people that he practiced, in and around and with,” 2nd Circuit Court Judge Susan Sabers said.

2nd Circuit Court Judge Susan Sabers says her father inspired her to pursue the law as a profession.

“So growing up as a kid, I got to come home every day to a house where my dad had had a good day at work, my dad loved what he did and it was hard not to be inspired by that,” Susan Sabers said.

Retired Chief Justice David Gilbertson sat next to Sabers on the Supreme Court bench.

“It went beyond sitting on the bench together. We would go for walks in the evening, because we both like to walk and talk about cases, or maybe fishing or whatever,” Gilbertson said.

But the good friends would sometimes disagree on cases, including whether someone’s trash can be used as evidence in a criminal investigation.

“Clearly, we don’t want the whole world going through our garbage,” Richard Sabers said in 2006.

“He did challenge me in conference. He said, well, would you want people digging through your garbage and so, with a little smile, I said, well, they wouldn’t find much,” Gilbertson said.

Sabers also helped open-up the legal system to our viewers by writing the rules that allowed TV cameras in the Supreme Court chambers. Sabers brought a trial lawyer’s perspective to the high court which his friends and family say put the people of South Dakota first.

“He called them as he saw them and he never played favorites and he was always superbly prepared,” Gilbertson said.

“He touched many lives and he left behind so many ways to remember him and to remember him fondly,” Susan Sabers said.

Sabers’ funeral will be Monday in Sioux Falls. Click here to view his obituary

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