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Watertown publisher named to state panel

Mark Roby

PIERRE -- Gov. Dennis Daugaard has named a Watertown man to the state panel that helps determine who can serve as South Dakota circuit judges and state Supreme Court justices.

The appointment of Mark Roby to the state Commission on Judicial Qualifications took effect this week.

Roby is publisher of The Watertown Public Opinion newspaper. He replaces Sally Christenson of Pierre. She had served the maximum of two four-year terms. The commission will need to select new officers. Christenson was chairwoman.

Roby's appointment comes in the wake of some raucous politicking in the Legislature last winter over the commission's size and make-up.

The commission was established in the South Dakota Constitution as part of the state government reforms of the late 1960s and early '70s. It currently has seven members -- three lawyers, two lay citizens and two circuit judges -- and the panel serves several important roles.

The commission investigates complaints against circuit judges or justices and can conduct confidential hearings regarding removal or involuntary retirement. Those recommendations go to the Supreme Court for decisions.

They also screen applications for judicial vacancies and recommend to the governor at least two nominees for each opening. The governor must choose one of their nominees or ask for new recommendations.

State law took effect Monday changing the ways that people are selected to be on the commission. The State Bar president no longer will have authority over its three seats. That power now rests with the State Bar's seven commissioners.

Also removed was the restriction against a governor appointing attorneys.

The governor still wanted to appoint a lay person, according to his spokesman, Tony Venhuizen.

"Mark will bring a good perspective as a newspaperman and a businessman. He is an advocate for openness and understands the need for quality people in a strong judiciary," Venhuizen said.

The other commission members are citizen Tom Dravland, of Pierre; circuit judges Jeff Davis, of Rapid City, and Bruce Anderson, of Lake Andes; and attorneys Kim Mortenson, of Fort Pierre, Stephanie Pochop, of Gregory, and Scott Heidepriem, of Sioux Falls. Those three are State Bar appointees.