Judge Art Rusch's courthouse research featured in SD Magazine No building is more closely tied to so many major events in people's lives than the county courthouse. Births and deaths are recorded there. Marriages start and stop there. Business, family and neighborhood feuds go public there. The joy of land ownership is recorded, protected (and taxed) there. Crimes from petty theft to homicide reach a conclusion there.
All of which makes county courthouses the setting for many memorable tales. Bernie Hunhoff collected a sampling of these, and explored the historic role of these grand old buildings, in "Prairie Palaces of Justice," a feature story in the May/June issue of South Dakota Magazine.
Circuit Court Judge Arthur Rusch, of Vermillion, loves his job so much it's also one of his hobbies: he tours and researches South Dakota's courthouses in his spare time. Judge Rusch finds history and charm in every courthouse, but he has favorites.
"Watertown has a terrific building that is in some ways more ornate than our Capitol building. Gettysburg has a jewel. My favorite might be Mitchell's. Of course, I'm also partial to my local courthouse in Vermillion. It's not a huge building, but the county has kept it in such good condition that it is quite impressive."
Rusch, who has presided over thousands of proceedings in his 10 years on the bench, has accumulated a few stories of his own about what goes on inside courthouses. A few years ago in the Clay County courthouse, a lawyer was interrogating a fellow lawyer about a will that was being contested.
"Did you ever have any discussion with decedent about his will?" asked the interrogator.
The lawyer in the witness chair, with great caution, answered, "Do you mean before of after he died?"
"Prairie Palaces of Justice," also features stories and observations by David Gilbertson of Pierre, presently chief justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court, and one-time circuit court judge for Sisseton, Britton, Aberdeen and Webster.
South Dakota Magazine is published bimonthly in Yankton.
The May/June issue is available on newsstands throughout the state, and by subscription at 800-456-5117 or www.sodakmag.com.