Smith first Democrat named to circuit bench in 15 yearsSmith will fill the position vacated in July when Judge Sean O’Brien retired.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
Davison County State’s Attorney Pat Smith is the first Democrat to be appointed a South Dakota circuit judge by Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the first Democrat to receive such an appointment in 15 years.
Daugaard announced he had chosen Smith, who has been state’s attorney since 1998, to become the newest judge in South Dakota’s First Judicial Circuit. Smith will fill the position vacated in July when Judge Sean O’Brien retired.
“Gov. Daugaard never even asked me about my political affiliation,” Smith said. “Nor did I expect him to.”
He was one of four applicants for the post. Smith said he will resign by the end of the year to accept the judicial post. Retired Third District Judge Rodney Steele has been filling in while the governor weighed the applicants.
Smith is the first Democrat but not the first non-Republican that Daugaard has appointed to a circuit judge position. In April, Daugaard appointed First Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering, a Freeman resident and a registered independent, according to the Hutchinson County Auditor’s Office.
The last Democrat to be appointed to a circuit judge position in South Dakota by any governor is current Second Circuit Judge C. Joseph Neiles. He was appointed in 1997 by then-Gov. Bill Janklow, a Republican.
The only other Democrats appointed and still serving as circuit judges in South Dakota are Second Circuit Judge Kathleen Caldwell, appointed in 1993, and Third Circuit Judge Jon Erickson, appointed in 1988. Both were appointed by former Republican Gov. George Mickelson.
In August, Caldwell announced she will retire Jan. 8.
The remaining Democrats still on the bench in South Dakota’s circuit courts were all elected in 2006. They are First Circuit Judge Tim Bjorkman, Second Circuit Judge Patricia Riepel and Third Circuit Judge Vincent Foley.
Among the rest of the state’s current circuit judges, 25 are Republican and nine, including Gering, are independent.
Of those 25 Republican judges, 24 were appointed to their positions by a Republican governor. Daugaard’s lone Supreme Court appointee, Lori Wilbur, is a Republican.
The Daily Republic obtained information on the political affiliation of the state’s current circuit judges from numerous county auditors and voter registration records.