As she took her oath Friday, Circuit Judge Cheryle (Wiedmeier) Gering was presented with her judicial robe and gavel.
But the new First Circuit Court judge said she considered the audience attending Fridays installation as the real symbols of her new position, serving 14 counties in southeast South Dakota. She replaces Presiding Circuit Judge Arthur Rusch of Vermillion, who retired last month.
Family, friends and colleagues filled the courtroom for Fridays installation ceremony at the Yankton County Courthouse and Safety Center. Gering said those people have laid the foundation for her legal career.
They say, if a house is to last, it has to be built with a firm foundation, she said. I am very fortunate to have (that solid foundation) that my career was built upon.
Gering noted the people she will meet in the future will provide more valuable bricks forming her career foundation. She also used the analogy of bricks in describing the sometimes difficult decisions she will face in the courtroom.
I will have a few bricks thrown at me, she said. I am prepared for the adversarial system.
Gering grew up in northern Yankton County and attended Menno High School. She received her bachelors degree in political science and criminal justice from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. She received the Presidential Alumni Scholarship, the top USD merit award which fully covered her college expenses.
While at USD, Gering performed in the concert and marching bands.
Gering graduated with high distinction from the University of Iowa School of Law, finishing sixth out of 215 in her class. Desiring to practice law in South Dakota, she returned to the state and joined the Sioux Falls law firm of Davenport, Evans, Hurwitz and Smith.
She credited her colleagues at the law firm for their support. She previously told the Press & Dakotan that, if she had not received the judgeship, she would have chosen to practice at the firm for the rest of her career.
Gering, who now lives in Freeman, also credited the love and backing provided by her family. She introduced the family members in attendance, who were seated in the jury box during Fridays ceremony.
They are a big part of why I am here, she said. I give thanks for the support they have given me and the support I will need as I continue on this adventure.
And this is the only time I want to see them in my courtroom, she added jokingly.
Presiding Circuit Judge Steven Jensen of Dakota Dunes, serving out of Elk Point, welcomed Gering to the bench. He also welcomed her to the First Circuit, which covers the southeast quadrant of the state from roughly Dakota Dunes to Chamberlain.
The circuit includes Aurora, Bon Homme, Brule, Buffalo, Charles Mix, Clay, Davison, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson, McCook, Turner, Union and Yankton counties.
I think I speak for all of the judges and court staff when I say we look forward to working with you, Jensen told Gering. It will probably take you two to three years to get around the circuit and see all the court staff. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
The audience included a large number of judges representing the federal and state judiciary.
Besides Jensen and Rusch, the justices attending Fridays installation included U.S. District Court Judge Roberto Lange, who formerly worked with Gering at the Sioux Falls law firm; retired Supreme Court Justices Judith Meierhenry and Robert Amundson; and First Circuit Judges Glen Eng of Yankton and Bruce Anderson of Wagner.
After the ceremony, Gering spoke with the Press & Dakotan about her new career path. She officially took the bench on Tuesday, July 5 a day later than usual because of the Independence Day holiday to hear her first case.
I am both nervous and excited, she said. I have a lot of anticipation and a lot to learn.
Gering said she didnt know for sure that she would become a judge when she entered law school. However, she held a judgeship as a career goal and applied for the vacancy created when Rusch announced his retirement from the bench.
She underwent a background check and interview with the Judicial Qualifications Committee. Her name was forwarded to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who interviewed the finalists and selected her for the judgeship.
You never know what direction the (future) will lead, she said. I have had good fortune and enjoyed a good career.
In the month since her selection, Gering has met with sitting judges to learn more about her new role. She has also shadowed courtroom personnel to learn more about their procedures.
I have learned (judges) do a lot more than meets the eye, she said. They do a lot of administrative work thats not seen in the courtroom. They also do a lot of correspondence. But Im up to the challenge.
Gering also received advice on the necessary traits for sitting on the bench.
I learned that a judge needs to be hard working and treat everyone with respect, she said.
Gering already knows many of her fellow lawyers in the circuit. However, she took the opportunity to meet with attorneys at gatherings in Yankton, Clay and Union counties during the past month.
Her duty station is located in Yankton County, but she will also hear cases in Clay and Union counties. She will be assigned to hear cases elsewhere in the circuit as needed, and she could hear cases with the South Dakota Supreme Court.
Gering will deal with a factor not previously faced by circuit court judges cameras in the courtroom.
The South Dakota Supreme Court has allowed cameras in its courtrooms for years. A new state law which went into effect Friday allows cameras in circuit courtrooms for the first time.
Gering said she has been studying the new law and its implementation in the courtroom. She anticipates working with the media and making adjustments as needed.
Gering doesnt make the distinction of herself as a female judge. However, she did appreciate Fridays attendance by Meierhenry, the first and only female justice on the South Dakota Supreme Court.
I was so honored to have (Meierhenry) be here, Gering said. She has been a great role model, and I look at her as the way I should conduct my career and the way I practice law. I look for the best way to emulate her.
At Fridays reception, Rusch said the day brought bittersweet feelings as he watched his successor take her oath.
I am happy to have (Gering) sworn in. She will do a good job, Rusch said. Its always incredibly difficult to leave a job, but its good to see her take over.
Now outfitted with her robe and gavel, Gering looks forward to serving from the bench.
I hope to serve South Dakota and the First Circuit to the best of my ability, she said. I want (people) to come to the courthouse and know their cases will be fairly heard.