FREEMAN As a young girl, Cheryle (Wiedmeier) Gering interviewed a judge.
Now, after a distinguished law career, she will become one.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard has appointed the Freeman woman as a First Circuit judge serving southeast South Dakota. She will replace Presiding Judge Arthur Rusch of Vermillion, who is retiring June 8 after serving on the bench since 1994.
Gerings exposure to judges began long before law school. As a seventh grader in the Menno schools, she was assigned to interview a public servant for her civics class.
She knew that she wanted to be a lawyer, so she selected then-Circuit Judge Ernest Hertz of Menno from a list of choices.
Judge Hertz was very kind to me. I remember him showing me that he had a sketch that an inmate had sent to him, she said. I was just a seventh grader, but he gave me his undivided attention and shared his time with me.
Gerings interest in the legal profession began at an even earlier age. Even as young as 10 or 11, I wanted to be a lawyer, she said.
She pointed to a Yankton attorney, William Schenk, as one inspiration. She recalled, as a young girl, sitting in Schenks waiting room while her parents met with the attorney to settle her grandfathers estate.
She was fascinated by the hundreds of books lining the shelves.
I thought, You get paid to read books? What a great job! she said. Right then, I knew that was the job for me.
Her desire to become an attorney was fueled even more during high school, when she worked for Menno attorneys Albert Ulmer and Tom Hertz.
They were kind and reaffirming, she said. My thought was that this (legal profession) was what I wanted to do.
Gering received an undergraduate degree in political science and criminal justice studies in 1988 from the University of South Dakota. She received her law degree from the University of Iowa in 1991, graduating in sixth place with high distinction, from a class of 215.
I went to the University of Iowa for law school, but I had a desire to come back to South Dakota and practice law, she said. Law students often clerk, or intern, during the summer after their second year of school. I applied at several Sioux Falls firms, and during the summer of 1990 I was with the (Davenport, Evans, Hurwitz & Smith) firm.
She enjoyed the experience so much that she applied to work at the Sioux Falls firm after graduation in 1991. She was hired and has remained in private practice with the firm ever since. She has handled litigation in both the state and federal court systems.
From the start of her law career, Gering desired to become a judge. When Rusch announced his retirement, she applied for the vacancy.
Gering underwent a fairly arduous process on the path to her selection, Rusch said.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission does background checks and investigations on all of the candidates before they determine who is qualified or not qualified to be a judge, Rusch said.
The governor makes the selection but is required by law to select only from those candidates who were found to be qualified by the Judicial Qualifications Commission. She will then be up for election in the next judicial election in 2014.
Gering was interviewed separately by the Judicial Qualifications Committee and Daugaard before the governor announced his choice of the new judge.
Daugaard said he chose Gering for both her background and talents.
I am pleased that Cheryle has agreed to become a circuit judge, the governor said. Her many years of legal experience, as well as her diligence, common sense and even temperament, will serve the citizens well in southeastern South Dakota.
Gering said she appreciated the faith in her.
I am grateful that the governor chose to appoint me to the circuit court, she said. Im sure many qualified and deserving candidates applied for the position. Ill do my best to serve the people of the state of South Dakota.
Rusch expressed confidence in his successor.
I am certain that Judge Gering will do an excellent job, he said. She grew up in northern Yankton County, so she is familiar with the area.
The First Judicial Circuit includes Aurora, Bon Homme, Brule, Buffalo, Charles Mix, Clay, Davison, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson, McCook, Turner, Union and Yankton counties.
The southeast corner of the circuit will see some shuffling, Rusch said. Circuit Judge Steven Jensen of Elk Point will take over as presiding judge, and assignments will change for other judges.
Judge Gering has indicated that she would rather have her duty station in Yankton than in Vermillion, as mine was, Rusch said. This will mean there will be one circuit judge in Elk Point and two in Yankton. However, she will be traveling to handle court cases in Vermillion and some of the cases in Elk Point.
I have also authorized Magistrate Judge (Tami) Bern to move her duty station from Yankton to Vermillion so there will be a judge available there if needed for search warrants and things like that.
Gering said she may serve elsewhere in the circuit if needed, such as when a judge is on vacation, has a conflict of interest in a case or needs help with a caseload. As a circuit judge, she could be asked to sit on the South Dakota Supreme Court if a justice cannot hear a case.
Gering foresees a natural transition from arguing in front of the court to hearing the cases.
Though (as a lawyer) I am the advocate for one person, I am always aware of the other side and what the position is, she said. As judge, I have to be aware of both sides. Im not the advocate of one or the other. I hear both arguments.
She sees two primary assets that she brings to the bench.
My trial experiences bring significant benefits in handling much of what a judge does in the courtroom, whether its the trial setting or pre-trial, she said. I have also had a very eclectic practice, very little criminal but a very wide variety of civil cases.
Gering also brings a familiarity of the area to her judgeship.
My parents farmed on the northern edge of Yankton County. I went to school in Menno, and then 12 years ago, when I was married, we moved to Freeman, she said. I think it really gave me the common sense and the (practicality) that I have brought to my practice and now to the bench.
Gering will be sworn into office at Yankton at a date to be determined. In the meantime, she is closing her private practice and turning clients files over to her partners.
I have said several times, and I also heard from the governor, that right now you do have a foot in both worlds, she said of the transition. As far as leaving my partners, theres very mixed emotions. They are extraordinary attorneys. If I hadnt been selected for this judgeship, I would have stayed here (at the firm) until I retired.
Its sad to leave, but Im excited for the opportunity, she added.
Gering holds no intentions of resting on her laurels as a judge.
Every time I walk into a courtroom, I have butterflies, no matter what, she said. Ellsworth Evans, one of our founding partners, told me, If youre not nervous, youre probably not prepared. You have to be ready for every eventuality.
Gering has already received a warm welcome from other judges. The South Dakota judiciary is very approachable, she said.
However, she knows that she has big shoes to fill.
I have a lot of respect for Judge Rusch, she said. Its going to be quite a challenge for me (to replace him) and a lot to live up to.