Tough, fair: Remembering Clyde Calhoon

Register file photo: Former Brookings County State's Attorney Clyde Calhoon is shown in his office in 2012.

Served 42 years as Brookings County state’s attorney

BROOKINGS – The local law enforcement community has lost one of its longest-serving – from 1974 until retiring in December 2016 – and most highly respected champions: former Brookings County State’s Attorney Clyde Calhoon, 80, died Monday after a short battle with cancer.

Those who knew him well and those who worked with him would often cite a couple other words that said a lot about how Calhoon did his job: tough, fair.

Brookings County Sheriff Marty Stanwick noted that he had the “highest respect” for Calhoon. He had worked with him as a police officer from 1977 until 1999, when he was elected sheriff. He then worked with the state's attorney until he retired in 2016.

The sheriff cited one of the serious – yet somewhat humorous – attitudes of Calhoon in his approach toward lawbreakers: “More than one person said, ‘Don’t get arrested in Brookings County.' Clyde was tough on crime, but he was fair. He was always fair; he was always willing to listen and hear the officer’s opinion on cases. I always liked that in a state’s attorney. He was one of those people you always had respect for.”

A fellow attorney and public servant who in effect spent his entire legal career with Calhoon was Mark Kratochvil, going back to early 1976. “Clyde hired me out of law school. He was a relatively new state’s attorney, in the position about a year-and-a-half, two years. He’d been elected.”

The pair would work together for more than 37 years. They were law partners and Kratochvil was deputy state’s attorney until he retired.

“What can you say about Clyde?” Kratochvil lauded his former partner as “intelligent, dedicated” and having an “incredible memory.”

“The staff could read him reports and he would go to court and rattle off details of offenses if he had to,” Kratochvil recalled. “I never met anyone who had a memory like his. But then he had to, with his handicap. He had to have a pretty good memory, but he went beyond that.”

On his way to his wedding in January 1964, Calhoon lost his eyesight in an automobile accident. He would go on to graduate from South Dakota State University in 1967 and from University of South Dakota Law School magna cum laude in 1970.

Citing Calhoon’s dedication and hard work, Kratochvil recalled “going in to work at 7 o’clock most mornings, and he’d probably been there at least an hour before me.”

Kratchovil praised his partner’s integrity, adding, “He taught me a lot about the practice of law. He treated everyone the same.”  

Another lawyer in public service who remembers Calhoon well is Brookings City Attorney Steve Britzman, who had known him since 1983, when he was deputy city attorney; in 2000 he became city attorney. For about three decades, they “worked across the table from each other” in the courtroom.

“When I started, I learned from Clyde,” Britzman said. “I learned by observing and listening to Clyde and the way he handled the duties of the state's attorney. So I tried to model my professional approach after Clyde’s.

“I felt that Clyde really understood the law very well and was consistent in the service that he provided. With respect to Clyde, he provided consistently for many, many years a fair administration of the state's attorney’s role in the justice system.

“He was very professional and respectful, always very well prepared before the judge. There was no exception to that over all those years,” Britzman added.

A celebration of Calhoon’s life will be held at the Brookings Elks from 5-7 p.m. Friday, July 16.

 

Contact John Kubal at [email protected]

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