Smith sworn in as judgeLongtime local state’s attorney in new job behind bench.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
In all likelihood, it was the first and last time Pat Smith will proclaim “let’s eat cake” in a courtroom.
Smith, who served as Davison County state’s attorney for the last 14 years, was sworn in as the newest judge in South Dakota’s First Judicial Circuit in a ceremony Friday at the Davison County Courthouse in Mitchell. About 100 people packed the third-floor courtroom, including Smith’s family, friends, past and present colleagues, local attorneys, city and county officials, and other First Circuit judges.
After a brief speech by First Circuit Presiding Judge Steve Jensen, Smith was read the oath of office and sworn in by retired First Circuit Judge Ron Miller.
“The first word that comes to mind is ‘wow,’ ” Smith said.
A visibly emotional Smith thanked his friends, past teachers, colleagues and, most of all, his wife, whom he recalled in a story had surprised him by showing up just before opening statements at his first trial as an attorney.
That trial took place in the same courtroom as Friday’s ceremony, Smith said.
To break the emotional moment, Smith exclaimed “let’s eat cake,” drawing a laugh from those in attendance.
Smith replaces First Circuit Judge Sean O’Brien, who retired in July. Retired Third Circuit Judge Rodney Steele, who notably presided over Bill Janklow’s 2003 manslaughter trial, has filled in since O’Brien retired.
The First Circuit includes Aurora, Bon Homme, Buffalo, Brule, Charles Mix, Clay, Davison, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson, McCook, Turner, Union and Yankton counties.
The Davison County Commission has appointed Mitchell attorney Jim Miskimins, 49, to replace Smith as state’s attorney. Miskimins attended Friday’s ceremony.
According to Davison County Clerk of Courts Barb McKean, Smith will handle the civil cases for the First Circuit, which means Judge Tim Bjorkman, who currently handles those cases, will move to felony criminal cases.
The remaining judicial positions in the First Circuit will be unchanged: Judge Pat Kiner will remain in charge of magistrate court and Judge Cheryle Gering will remain in charge of juvenile court.
Smith’s first scheduled court date is Jan. 8.
The selection process that eventually led to Smith’s appointment took months. When O’Brien announced his retirement, the Judicial Qualifications Commission began accepting applications for the position. Once the commission completed background checks and interviews with candidates, it sent a list of the most qualified candidates to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who did his own interviews and then made the final decision.
Smith was born in New Jersey but moved to Mitchell with his parents while in middle school. He is a graduate of Mitchell High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 1989 from the University of South Dakota, then graduated from the USD School of Law in 1992.
Smith returned to Mitchell after law school and opened a private practice, working in both criminal defense and civil law until he was elected Davison County state’s attorney in 1998.
He was re-elected in 2000, 2004 and 2008.