South Dakota Supreme Court Justice calls for $5 million in security upgrades
The annual state of the judiciary address falls on the second day of the 2022 legislative session
PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen spoke to a joint session of the state Legislature on Wednesday, Jan. 12, outlining money requests for security upgrades and pay raises for the judicial system.
The annual state of the judiciary address, coming on the second day of the 2022 legislative session, was delivered before mostly mask-less legislators (though Jensen's colleagues on the state's highest court sat in the front row, masked).
Jensen acknowledged the ongoing pandemic in his speech, noting the Unified Judicial System has not yet caught up fully on jury trials since the beginning of 2020. But he noted technological improvements for remote hearings may continue after the pandemic.
The second-year chief justice also noted inflationary concerns have dimmed the impact of a pay raise for judges approved last year by the Legislature. He said Gov. Kristi Noem's call for a 6% pay raise across state employees was a "significant step."
However, he said employees at county courthouses continue to report unqualified applicants for a number of open positions, including court reporters, and urged lawmakers to make pay raises a priority this session.
"We're losing good people to higher paying jobs," Jensen said was a message local officials often deliver to him.
Jensen also called for an additional $5 million in grants for funding security upgrades at courthouses, from ballistic glass to secure doors. He said each courthouse could average a $75,000 spend, though needs differ across urban and rural areas.
And he asked for the state to help defray costs for county officials to provide interpreters in civil -- not just criminal and juvenile -- cases.
As a result of an interpreter shortage, Jensen said, many persons with limited English proficiency are "placed in difficult position of relying on friends and family members when available to provide some simulation of their case to the court."
The chief justice also summarized findings from a commission reviewing sexual harassment in the legal profession. The commission, led by justices Mark Salter and Patricia DeVaney, have endorsed mandatory training for employees every two years and an ombudsman position within the South Dakota State Bar Association to review sexual harassment allegations.
A survey by the state bar last year found one in four members of the legal profession had reported sexual harassment at work.
Jensen, who was appointed byNoem a year ago, ended his speech on a bipartisan tone, invoking the English writer G.K. Chesterton and calling on lawmakers to strike an optimistic tone and not mistake "dragons" with people who disagree or "are different from us."
The opening trio of speeches starting off the South Dakota Legislature's session will culminate on Thursday, Jan. 13, with the annual state of the tribes address.