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High court affirms Jerauld state's attorney win

By Dirk Lammers

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — The man who won the state's attorney's race in Jerauld County last November is the rightful holder of the office, even though he simultaneously ran for the position in a neighboring county, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

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Dedrich Koch beat Casey Bridgman in the Republican primary in June 2012 and ran unopposed in November's general election. He was sworn into office but Bridgman refused to step down, saying Koch had illegally run for office in both Jerauld County and Buffalo County.

Bridgman sued and Koch filed a countersuit.

South Dakota law states that no person may be a candidate for nomination or election to more than one public office.

But the high court, in its written opinion issued Wednesday, said Koch had been a candidate in Jerauld County first, gathered the required number of signatures, filed timely papers and complied with state election laws.

The justices said they did not have to address Bridgeman's claim of whether Koch improperly ran in Buffalo County because Koch's case was focused on the Jerauld position and he had no standing in Buffalo County.

If Koch executed an invalid certificate of nomination for the Buffalo County office, "that does not in itself, contrary to Bridgman's insistence, mean that Koch 'has withdrawn from the Jerauld County State's Attorney position,'" the justices wrote.

The Supreme Court's decision affirmed the ruling by the circuit court, which also had denied Bridgman relief.

In 2004, South Dakota changed its residency requirements for state's attorney in counties with low population to encourage more candidates. The change for counties with populations of less than 5,000 said that no state's attorney is disqualified from holding office for failure to be a resident of that county if the state's attorney is a resident of a county which is contiguous to the county in which the state's attorney holds such office.

Bridgman also challenged the constitutionality of that law, but the justices said that point is "beyond the scope of this action and will not be addressed."