South Dakota Chief Justice's speech pushing care for staff

PIERRE (AP) – South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven R. Jensen on Wednesday requested $5 million to bolster court security while updating the Legislature on how the state's court system is tackling sexual harassment, mental health for judges and a shortage of court reporters.

In his annual State of the Judiciary Speech, Jensen said he has prioritized the staff of the state's court system as he has overseen the judicial system during the pandemic.

He explained that there is a growing awareness of the mental health risks judges face as they make decisions, such as child custody and prison sentences, that have long-term impacts on people's lives. With the added pressure of the pandemic, there is a growing risk for burnout, depression and substance abuse among judges, Jensen said. The state's courts have created a program that allows judges to reach out for help and a referral for counseling.

“I firmly believe that maintaining excellence in our courts must start by focusing on the greatest resource that we have in the court system, and that is our people,” he told the Legislature.

With the Legislature weighing how to spend plentiful funds this year, Jensen requested $5 million for a grant program that would outfit county courthouses with features like security doors and ballistic glass.

He raised concerns about a shortage of court reporters, saying there was not a training program for the profession and the state’s courtrooms would soon face a shortage of court reporters as many move to retire. He said the court system is studying ways to address the shortage.

Jensen also highlighted how the state's court system was trying to address the findings of a survey from the state bar that roughly one-quarter of respondents had experienced sexual harassment while working in the legal system. The court system has instituted mandatory sexual harassment training, as well as an ombudsman position in the state bar.

Jensen said it was his goal “to ensure that every person involved in the legal profession is treated with dignity and respect.”


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