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For Immediate Release

Contact:Greg Sattizahn 773-3474


The South Dakota Supreme Court is pleased to announce the Justices have re-elected Chief Justice David Gilbertson to a fifth term as Chief Justice of South Dakota’s highest court.

Chief Justice Gilbertson, a resident of Lake City, became a circuit judge in 1986 and was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1995. He became Chief Justice in 2001 and was re-elected to that post in 2005, 2009 and 2013.

In response to his election, Chief Justice Gilbertson stated “I am grateful for the opportunity to have served the citizens of South Dakota these past 16 years as Chief Justice and am looking forward to doing so for another four years.” He also cited the harmonious working relationship with the other Justices as a key factor in the Court’s moving forward with various programs for the benefit of the state’s legal system and its citizens.

The Chief Justice is the administrative head of the South Dakota court system which has 576 employees and an annual operating budget of $53.7 million dollars. The Chief Justice also works very closely with the Governor and the Legislature on matters related to the court system in South Dakota. The Chief Justice will deliver an annual State of the Judiciary message to a joint session of the Legislature on the status of the judicial system on January 11, 2017. In addition to these duties the Chief Justice also handles ceremonial tasks, personnel issues and delivers about 40 public speeches a year.

In 2013, Chief Justice Gilbertson partnered with Governor Dennis Daugaard to propose an extensive overhaul of South Dakota’s adult criminal justice system. Many South Dakotans were called upon to provide expertise on this significant reform effort. Legislative approval was ultimately achieved. Building on that success, Chief Justice Gilbertson and Governor Daugaard adopted the same process to secure passage of a comprehensive revision of the state’s juvenile justice system. Instead of removing juveniles from their community and family to expensive out of state institutions, they now are supervised within the community and, where appropriate, the entire family can now receive assistance to solve problems that lead to juvenile justice system involvement.

Chief Justice Gilbertson has been an outspoken advocate for alternatives to incarceration for drug or alcohol addicted individuals cycling through the court system. In the last four years the state court system has experienced tremendous growth in its drug and alcohol court programs. These programs have expanded from an experiment with a few dozen participants to a state-wide system of 16 such programs with a capacity of 614 participants in 2017. A companion program called HOPE deals with substance abuse issues in rural areas and is also experiencing rapid growth.

During the same time frame the Rural Attorney Recruitment Program has demonstrated significant growth. This program provides financial incentives for attorneys to establish legal practices in rural counties in need of a local attorney. Currently, 48 of South Dakota’s counties have a population of 10,000 or less and are eligible to participate in the program. To date 17 rural counties have signed up for the program. The Rural Attorney Recruitment Program has become a model for the rest of the nation.

Last year Chief Justice Gilbertson secured passage of a comprehensive set of laws to protect South Dakota’s senior citizens from physical, financial and psychological abuse. Those laws are now in effect and are accomplishing their intended purposes.    

The number of requests for mental health evaluations for people facing criminal charges had gone from 48 in 2013 to 147 in 2015. In 2016 Chief Justice Gilbertson created a Mental Health Task Force to study why persons spend undue time in jails awaiting mental health evaluations before they can proceed with the criminal justice process. The task force of 22 people from the criminal justice and mental health fields spent from March to October studying the issue and ultimately drafted a report with comprehensive recommendations. This will result in a legislative package the Chief Justice and the Governor intend to offer to the Legislature this January for its consideration.

Chief Justice Gilbertson has been active on the national legal scene. Last year he served as President of the Conference of Chief Justices. This is an organization made up of the Chief Justice from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. At the same time he was also Chair of the Board of the National Center for State Courts. These positions provided him an opportunity to speak at the White House and the United States Supreme Court. He is the first South Dakotan to hold either position.

As a Justice of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Gilbertson and the other four Justices consider appeals to the South Dakota Supreme Court. The Court currently considers about 350 filings per year. Last year it issued nearly 100 written opinions.

When asked why at 67 he did not retire, he responded, “I was raised by my parents who survived a depression and World War II, to finish what I started. The Court has many fine programs which are in the process of expanding to meet the needs of South Dakotans. I would like to continue to make those programs fully and successfully operational before I step down.” He added he is able to continue because of the strong support of his wife of 37 years, Deborah. He said, “When we got married I promised her it would not be dull. I guess I kept that promise.”

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