PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota's new Supreme Court Justice addressed the state legislature on Wednesday, Jan. 13, calling for a system-wide officer to oversee security at the state's 60-plus courthouses.
Chief Justice Steven Jensen, the 57-year-old Supreme Court judge who took over following David Gilbertson's retirement after 20 years as the state's chief justice, delivered the annual "state of the judiciary" speech to another packed joint session of the state Legislature, which convened without a building-wide mask mandate this week at the Capitol in Pierre.
Jensen acknowledged the "impact" caused by COVID-19 on the state's courts, noting the "significant challenges" in holding jury trials.
"While the courts will have catching up to do after the threat of the pandemic has ended, I am proud of the fact that our courts have remained open to provide a safe forum for litigants," said Jensen, who spoke for roughly an hour without wearing a mask.
But Jensen's most direct call for legislative support surrounded security matters, as he asked the Legislature to approve money to fund hiring a court security coordinator for the state's judicial system.
"One need only read or listen to the news to understand the importance of security for the courts," said Jensen.
Jensen invoked a courthouse security committee, helmed by Justice Janine Kern, that noted of the 66 counties, only six have "full-time court security" officers and that in more rural regions, only the county sheriff provides safety.
While Jensen didn't detail specific security threats, he acknowledged "domestic" disputes are among the most emotional courthouse conflicts.
One member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Ryan Cwach, a Yankton Democrat and practicing attorney, welcomed the chief justice's request.
"Security in our courthouses often feels nonexistence," Cwach told Forum News Service on Wednesday following the address. "The chief justice's call to make it a priority is urgent and must be answered."
Sometime early this year, the state Supreme Court is expected to rule on a proposed order, filed by Rapid City Judge Craig Pfeifle, on whether or not to allow firearms in the Custer County courthouse.
Last year, Pfeifle — the presiding judge on the 7th Judicial Circuit — halted in-person proceedings at the courthouse in Custer after the Custer County Commission voted to allow county employees and the public to carry guns in the courthouse and administrative building, though not the courtroom proper.
During Jensen's address on Wednesday, he also welcomed Justice Scott Myren to the bench and made an appeal to the legislators to raise judges' pay, remarking that state judges' pay ranked last in the nation.