Bern will replace Cody as magistrate judge

Bern will replace Cody as magistrate judge
Vermillion attorney Craig Thompson has good reason to know that Arthur Rusch, the presiding judge of the First Judicial Circuit, made a good decision earlier this month.

After receiving formal word from Magistrate Judge Mary Dell Cody that she plans to retire March 23, Rusch appointed Clay County State's Attorney Tami A. Bern as Cody's replacement.

In the mid-1990s, when Thompson served as the county's state's attorney, Bern served as deputy state's attorney and was also an associate in Thompson's law office.

"I think Tami's a great choice, and I think he (Rusch) made a great appointment," Thompson said. "Certainly she would make a good magistrate judge."

The South Dakota Supreme Court approved Bern's appointment on March 8. It becomes effective March 23.

Bern, originally from Gettysburg, graduated from The University of South Dakota in 1990 and The University of South Dakota School of Law in 1993.

She has been with the Clay County State's Attorney's office since 1993, serving first as deputy state's attorney.

She was elected as state's attorney in 1996, 2000 and 2004. Bern has served on the board of directors of the South Dakota State's Attorney Association and was appointed by Gov. Mike Rounds to the Governor's Commission on the Indian Child Welfare Act.

She is married and lives in Clay County with her husband, Arlan, and their children, Lauren and Josh.

"Because the position (of magistrate judge) more or less deals with criminal law, she brings experience to the table," Thompson said. "After you've been a prosecutor in both the deputy state's attorney capacity and the state's attorney capacity for as long as Tami has, you're going to have experience.

"For the small claims court and civil aspect of being magistrate judge, she'll bring common sense to the bench," he added. "Her experience will play a role there, too. I think that she's very qualified and has a good deal of experience to bring into the position."

Bern submitted her notice of resignation, effective March 23, to the Clay County Commission at its meeting Tuesday. The commissioners agreed with her recommendation to appoint Deputy State's Attorney Teddi Gertsma as interim state's attorney.

The commissioners likely will advertise for applicants to seek a permanent replacement for Bern before the 2008 election. Should they receive a significant number of applicants, Bern said, Sheriff Andy Howe and Vermillion Police Chief Art Mabry have agreed to serve on a committee to help evaluate individuals seeking the job.

Under South Dakota law, magistrate judges are required to be law school graduates. They can handle preliminary hearings for felony cases, all criminal misdemeanor cases, small claims cases and civil cases under $10,000.

Bern's office will be in Yankton. She will be primarily handling cases in Union, Clay, Yankton and Bon Homme counties, but may handle cases throughout the First Circuit as assigned by the presiding judge. She will begin hearing cases on March 26.

Bern will take the oath of office at a swearing-in ceremony at the Clay County Courthouse at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 23. The public is invited to attend.

A retirement reception in honor of Judge Cody will be held March 22, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., in Courtroom A of the Yankton County Courthouse and Safety Center, 410 Walnut St., Yankton.

The First Judicial Circuit consists of 14 counties in the southeastern corner of the state. It includes Aurora, Bon Homme, Brule, Buffalo, Charles Mix, Clay, Davison, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson, McCook, Turner, Yankton and Union counties.

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