The appointment of Mark Roby to the state Commission on Judicial Qualifications took effect Monday.
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.
The legislation making the changes in the selection of commission members was sponsored by Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg.
The root of the fight in the Legislature was the appointment of Heidepriem to the commission two years ago by then-State Bar president Pat Goetzinger of Rapid City.
Heidepriem was the Democratic candidate for governor against Daugaard in 2010.
Goetzinger is a Democrat and a past congressional aide to Tom Daschle. Republicans took offense that Heidepriem could help influence the nominees recommended to Daugaard for judicial vacancies. Heidepriem is the commission's vice-chairman.
This is Roby's second appointment to a state board. He was named to the South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority by then-Gov. Mike Rounds in 2009 to a one-year term and was reappointed in 2010 to a four-year term.
Roby, who is active in local matters including service on the Prairie Lakes Healthcare System board, said he received an inquiry whether he would be interested in being on the judicial commission.
He said he hopes to add perspective as a businessperson regarding the recommendations for judicial vacancies and regarding complaints against judges and justices.
“The judicial branch of our system of government is as important as the other two, executive and legislative,” he said.
Roby said he will attend the next meeting of the Ellsworth authority and has found the work to be interesting but hasn't made a decision whether to continue serving on that board.
The authority's purposes include safety around the Air Force base east of Rapid City, noise issues and infrastructure services to the base.