S.D. Supreme Court considers requiring sexual harassment training for lawyers and judges

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s lawyers might soon be told that their actions must better reflect priorities of the #MeToo movement.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has scheduled a rules hearing next month on addressing sexual harassment within the state’s legal profession.

The high court on November 9 will consider adding sexual-harassment language to official codes of conduct for justices, judges, and lawyers.

The justices are responding to a Supreme Court-commissioned study that showed a significant rate of sexual harassment within the state’s legal profession.

The commission recommended the changes that the court will consider.

For judges, the commission members want the commentary of the South Dakota Code of Judicial Conduct to clarify the responsibilities and expectations for members of the judiciary:

“Sexual harassment or sexual misconduct by a judge while engaging in judicial or administrative responsibilities or any law related functions undermines the confidence in the legal profession and the
legal system and, as a result, is prejudicial to the administration of justice. Sexual harassment or sexual misconduct includes unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other objectively offensive verbal or physical conduct or communications sexual in nature.”

For lawyers and judges, the commission recommended adding requirements for sexual-harassment training in state laws.

Under the proposal, future judges would need to complete the training after their appointment. Current judges would need to get the training within two years after enactment of the proposed rule. They would need to continue to get training at least once every three years after.

Active lawyers in the State Bar would need to complete the training within two years after enactment of the proposed rule and once every three years after.

Failing to complete the training could be ground for disciplinary action and lawyers could be placed on inactive status.

The hearing will be in the Supreme Court courtroom on the second floor of the South Dakota Capitol in Pierre. Any interested person may appear and be heard by the court, provided that any amendments or objections be in writing and five copies be filed in advance to the clerk of the court no later than October 25.

The court’s current chief justice is Steven Jensen. Associate justices are Janine Kern, Mark Salter, Patricia DeVaney and Scott Myren.

Then-Governor Bill Janklow appointed the first woman, Judith Meierhenry, to the Supreme Court in 2002. Then-Governor Dennis Daugaard appointed Lori Wilbur in 2011 to succeed her. Daugaard appointed Justice Kern in 2014. Governor Kristi Noem appointed Justice DeVaney in 2019.

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