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Judge rules in Jerauld County election dispute

WESSINGTON SPRINGS -- A judge has cleared up confusion over who is the state's attorney of Jerauld County, for now.

Judge Jon Erickson filed a decision Tuesday morning stating Dedrich "Deach" Koch, a Buffalo County resident of Gann Valley, lawfully won the June 2012 Republican primary election for the position, beating out incumbent Casey Bridgman, of Wessington Springs in Jerauld County. The decision means Koch is the state's attorney, at least until the ongoing legal issues are resolved.

Koch was unopposed in the November general election and was sworn in Monday, but Bridgman filed a lawsuit seeking to retain the office on a technicality.

"I believe the courts made the right decision and I am looking forward to serving the people of Jerauld County," Koch said by phone Tuesday afternoon.

Bridgman claimed Koch was not a legitimate candidate because Koch also won the state's attorney position in Buffalo County in November, which Bridgman alleged was a violation of a state law that says one person cannot be a candidate for two offices; and because Koch does not reside in Jerauld County, an alleged violation of Jerauld County policy. Koch resigned from the Buffalo County state's attorney position Dec. 28 before taking the oath for the Jerauld County office Monday.

Judge Erickson's ruling upheld Koch's claim to the Jerauld County office while Bridgman's lawsuit continues.

"Mr. Bridgman's term of office ends and he has no ability to 'hold over,' " Erickson wrote.

But the case isn't over.

Erickson is allowing Bridgman to file a written brief addressing the following issues:

n South Dakota Codified Law 3-14-1, which states that an incumbent shall continue to hold office until a successor has been elected and qualified, and shall continue to receive compensation while in office.

n Whether it is incompatible to serve as state's attorney in neighboring counties, particularly when both are part-time public offices;

n The impact of a resignation of one of the two positions; and

n The constitutionality of a state law that says in counties with fewer than 2,000 residents, no state's attorney is disqualified from holding office for not residing in that county, as long as the state's attorney resides in a contiguous county. Buffalo County's population is 1,912 and Jerauld County's is 2,071.

Bridgman claims Jerauld County's personnel policy overrides the state's law. The policy states "its employees should reside within its boundaries ... or move your residence to the county within 60 days from your date of employment."

Bridgman has until Feb. 8 to file the brief and Koch has until Feb. 15 to respond.