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Daugaard appoints his lawyer to state's Judicial Commission

PIERRE — There is a new member for South Dakota's official panel that screens applicants and makes recommendations to the governor for appointing circuit judges and state Supreme Court justices.

Jim Seward will start a four-year term on the Judicial Qualifications Commission effective July 7. Gov. Dennis Daugaard chose Seward, who is Daugaard's legal counsel and aide.

Daugaard's appointment of Seward comes at an important time. Supreme Court Justice John Konenkamp, of Rapid City, has submitted his official intention to retire Dec. 31 after 20 years on the state's high court.

"The governor wants one of his two appointees to be an attorney, now that the Legislature has changed the law to allow him to appoint an attorney," Tony Venhuizen, a spokesman for Daugaard and a lawyer, said. "The governor trusts Seward to serve on the JQC and to help evaluate whether applicants for judicial office are qualified."

Konenkamp represents the Supreme Court district for Lawrence, Pennington, Custer and Meade counties.

State law requires the governor to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court and in circuit courts from recommendations made by the Judicial Qualifications Commission. The commission must submit at least two recommendations for a vacancy.

The commission was created by a state constitutional amendment in 1972. It has seven members: Two citizens appointed by the governor; two circuit judges appointed by the court system; and three lawyers selected by members of the State Bar.

Seward, a former private attorney and Butte County state's attorney, replaces Tom Dravland, of Pierre. Seward is a lieutenant colonel in the South Dakota National Guard and prosecuted court martial cases while stationed in Afghanistan in 2004-2005.

While on Daugaard's staff, Seward served as chairman of the group that assembled major changes in South Dakota's criminal courts system that were approved by the Legislature in 2013. He is now chairman of the oversight council that reviews the changes made in operation of criminal courts and sentencing.

Dravland served since Nov. 24, 2010, when then-Gov. Mike Rounds appointed him during the final months of the Rounds administration.