Wakonda native is new judge for the First Circuit

Wakonda native is new judge for the First Circuit South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Richard Sabers (left) administers the oath of office to Wakonda native Steven Jensen Oct. 3 in the courtroom of the Clay County Courthouse. Standing next to Jensen is his wife, Sue. by David Lias There were smiles on more than just the faces of Steven Jensen and his family as he was sworn in Oct. 3 as First Circuit Court judge in the Clay County Courthouse.

Presiding Judge Arthur Rusch of Vermillion, who presided over Friday's cermonies, said Jensen will help alleviate the caseloads in Yankton, Clay and Union counties, that, up until last week, were served only by Rusch and Judge Glen Eng.

"Steve had a big grin when he was appointed judge, but Judge Eng and I had even bigger grins. This will be a significant help to us in that area," Rusch said. "Steve has very extensive legal experience, and he will be able to hit the ground running. I am thrilled to have him."

The First Circuit serves Aurora, Bon Homme, Brule, Buffalo, Charles Mix, Clay, Davison, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson, McCook, Turner, Yankton and Union counties.

Jensen will help ease one of the heaviest caseloads in the state.

Many of Jensen's peers in the legal profession watched as he and his wife, Sue, stood before South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Richard Sabers, who administered the oath of office.

Sitting nearby were other several other members of the state Supreme Court. Members of the Clay County sheriff's department lined one wall of the courtroom.

Jensen, 40, is a native of Wakonda. After attending Bethel College in St. Paul, MN, he attended The University of South Dakota Law School in Vermillion and practiced law for 14 years with the Crary Huff law firm firm based in Dakota Dunes and Sioux City, IA.

Stewart Huff, Jensen's former co-worker, said it is difficult to part company, professionally, with him after all of those years.

"There is a void created (at our firm), and the void will be filled, but the absence of the personality will be felt for years," Huff said. "Our firm's loss is the public's gain. He is dedicated and has sensitivity, Christian attributes and sense of fairness."

Huff said Jensen has "a unique temperment for the judicial role."

Huff noted that when Jensen informed him he was interested in letting officials know he was interested in being considered a candidate for the judicial position, "he came to me with mixed emotions." He had formed close relationships with his clients and his co-workers, but, Huff said, "he had that spark of judicial ambition."

Judge Daryl Hecht, one of the firm's former partners who now serves with the Iowa appellate courts, said Jensen has the traits necessary to serve on the bench.

"Today marks Steve's transition from lawyer-advocate to judge," Hecht said. "His former clients, staff and co-workers are sad about their loss but also happy about the fulfillment of his desire to become a judge.

"Steve has intelligence, integrity, good judgment and work ethic. His personality is one of fair-mindedness. He is courteous, emotionally sound and slow to anger," Hecht, who has known Jensen for 15 years, said. "Steve is a person of humility, and he treats people with dignity and respect."

The public will be well-served by Jensen, Hecht predicted.

"I have watched his legal skills develop," he said. "The state of South Dakota today has received what I call the 'real deal'," Hecht said. "His personality is perfectly suited for the bench. I'm absolutely certain he won't become arbitrary or arrogant.

"Steve has not lost touch with just how fortunate he is to have practiced law in our system," he added. "The citizens of South Dakota should be thankful today that they have gained such an outstanding individual to serve them as judge."

Jensen replaces the late Lee Tappe on the bench. The new judge plans to maintain his Dakota Dunes residence and commute to his appointed station in Elk Point.

Jensen credited the influence of family, friends and colleagues.

"I will take with me the lessons I learned as a lawyer," Jensen said. "As a lawyer, even if I disagreed with the (judge's) decision, I knew the process was fair. As a judge, I hope the parties before me say that I was fair."

With the possibility of a long judgeship before him, Jensen said he hopes to maintain his passion for the law in his new role, which begins Monday.

"Another judge said, after 21 years, he still enjoys going to court. I hope I have that enthusiasm," he said.

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