Let's get this party started. As long as it doesn't involve nominations or endorsements of a political candidate.

The Rapid City Journal recently had an article in the paper talking about the judicial candidates with an innocuous headline "Judicial candidates tout their experience." From the article:

Two campaigns in western South Dakota in the Nov. 7 general election will match a state'’s attorney against an incumbent judge.

John Fitzgerald, Lawrence County state'’s attorney, will challenge incumbent judge Jerome Eckrich to be a 4th Circuit judge, serving Meade, Lawrence, Butte, Harding, Perkins, Corson, Dewey and Ziebach counties.

Lance Russell, state'’s attorney for Fall River and Shannon Counties, will challenge incumbent judge A.P. "“Pete" Fuller to be a 7th Circuit judge, serving Pennington, Fall River, Custer and Shannon counties.

In the June primary election, Russell and Fuller defeated Lara Roetzel, chief deputy state'’s attorney for Pennington County, to move on to the general election.


Fuller said voters should look at the experience of each candidate to make their decisions. He said the campaign should not be political and should focus on the candidateÂ’s ability to uphold the integrity, impartiality and independence of the judiciary.

"“I want people to get to know me and understand my wide variety of experiences," he said.


Russell graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a degree in law. He worked as a law clerk in Deadwood before being elected in 2000 to serve as state'’s attorney for Fall River and Shannon counties. He was re-elected in 2004.

He acknowledged that some voters may notice that Fuller has been in the legal profession for about 30 more years than he has but said he hopes voters will look at the different types of experience.

"“Things I'’ve tried to stress is that IÂ’ve been very conservative in the way I'’ve approached my budget,"” Russell said. "I'’ve increased the jury trial convicted rate and fought for what I believe to be the interests of the community."”
Read it all here, as well as the skinny on the Fitzgerald/Eckrich race.

I say the headline is innoucous, because it really doesn't give justice to the fierce campaigns that many of these judicial candidates are waging.

You might not be able to say "“The South Dakota Special Committee on Judicial Election Campaign Intervention"” three times fast, but over the course of the campaign season, they'’ve already churned out eleven opinions on what conduct is and is not permitted in judicial campaign elections.

Their latest opinion, #6-11 deals with whether or not actions related to participation with a political party violate the Code of Judicial Conduct. And it'’s probably the most far reaching opinion to date.

If you look at the opinion, everything on it is redacted in order to protect the identities of those people involved.

It looks like these two unknown candidates are spending lots of jockeying for position if one goes so far as to file a complaint, leaving the other stuck with responding. However, it looks like the complainant who was whining got something he didn't bargain for. A response which provides carte' blanche for political volunteers to go to work.

How can that affect things? In a competitive race, it can mean the world. For an example of the judicial race that I'm probably most familiar with, looking at the Russell/Fuller race you can see how it's getting to be intense. (Disclosure: Yes, Lance is a friend of mine)

Fuller's campaign is co-chaired by South Dakota Republican Party National Committeeman Ron Schmidt. Long time Democratic activist Linda Lea Viken has also appeared in ads as a public supporter. I'm also told that Fuller has hired Rapid City Council member Mike Schumacher to act as his campaign manager. For Mike's services, I've heard a figure as high as $9k bandied about, but no financial reporting has occurred yet, so until we see that consider it idle speculation for the time being.

As you can tell from the expense of hiring a manager, as well as the 1/4 page and larger ads that Fuller has been running in the Rapid City Journal, Fuller is pouring serious money into the race.

On the other hand, at the top, Lance's campaign is supported by some candidates, legislators, and other officeholders. But his big strength is coming from the organizations he's worked with. Lance has direct support from several of the footsoldiers going door to door in the elections this year.

Additionally, while Fuller points to support from attorneys, Lance points to support from stockgrowers, property owners, and many in the grasslands coalition he's represented in the past few years.

On a party basis, you hear of Fuller'’s support seemingly coming from some democrats, while Lance'’s foot soldiers more readily identify with the GOP. Fuller addresses the Democratic meetings, Lance the Republican ones.

From what I'’m hearing, the support of Fuller by GOP National Committeeman Ron Schmidt has caused great umbrage within the GOP from the top of the party on down. It's cited that Fuller has given past support of notable Democratic candidates such as Tom Daschle and Jim Abbott. In fact, when Ron's position as National Committeeman comes up for election at convention in 2008, it's a well known fact within many in the GOP that he'’s going to face a strong Republican challenger for that office, in part because of his support of Fuller.

If you look at the decision above, it looks like while Fuller has a monetary advantage, he may have something to fear from those footsoldiers. If you read that decision, it sure looks to me that if Lance truly has the GOP footsoldiers on his team and they can now interorganize themselves, there's nothing holding them back from going door to door on his behalf.

This has got to have the Fuller campaign nervous, because while they can raise considerable cash, they know they can'’t tap the GOP grassroots machine that the Russell campaign can. And now has the South Dakota Special Committee on Judicial Election Campaign Intervention's blessings to do so.

From this opinion, it appears that political parties still cannot formally endorse or nominate judges in South Dakota. However, there'’s nothing that stops those affiliated with the party from going to work for the candidate on an individual basis. In fact, and specifically at issue in decision #6-11, it appears that if the party wants to make a candidate'’s campaign materials available to the public, then they have this commission'’s blessing to do as they darn well please, short of an actual party nomination or an endorsement.

So now, grassroot armies can go to work. And whether it's in a judicial campaign or a political one - I'll pick grassroots over money any day.


Anonymous said…
The footsoldiers are all working to keep Ellie's hinges on for the last 3 weeks. But they're failing. I give her 10 days before she's fully unhinged.
Anonymous said…
I abhor the thought of Judges being subject to popular elections, fund raising, endorsements etc. It is, or is likely to become, justice for hire.

Ask anyone from the deep south about the election of their Judges if you want to learn about things to come. The Founding Fathers experienced a judicial branch that wielded it's power to the highest bidder in old England and consequently insulated the Federal bench from this process. While I don't advocate lifetime appointments, I find it distasteful that Judges are soliciting and receiving campaign contributions from lawyers who have cases pending before those same Judges. Unfortunately, South Dakota voters rejected the fix because they didn't want to "lose their right to vote" for another judicial candidate. While they may not have lost that right, they may have lost an independant judiciary.
Anonymous said…
The choice is simple, an experienced, intellegent, mature judge or Lance Russell. Yep, those famous liberals Ron Schmidt, Allen Nelson and Chuck Lien, all supporting Judge Fuller. Sounds like a communist plot to me.
Anonymous said…
Yep, you can call them foot soldiers or you can call them the children of the corn. Lance's latest ad in the RC journal shows you what's to come in SD. No lawyer would attack a judge based on one bail decision w/out knowing all the facts (as the judge would). A partisan would attach, sad.

Look in the Sixth Circuit. We've got two wildly unqualified candidates running against incumbents. One w/ads from Tony Dean. Neither of these challengers could get past the qualifications committee. I doubt it Lance would either as certainly other applicants would likely be as or more qualified than he. Unless of course his brother was governor.
Anonymous said…
Lance Russell has never been anything but a politician. He should not be running for judge. He should run for a position in state congress. He is not impartial in the cases he prosecutes. He uses his position to carry out vendettas. This is certainly not a man who will suddenly become impartial as a judge.
Anonymous said…
Ron Schmidt should be ashamed of his actions. He is suppose to be an R but he is standing up for a Liberal.
Anonymous said…

Russell isn't supposed to be impartial as a prosecutor. He should be fair (as opposed to "carrying out vendettas") when exercising his prosecutorial discretion, but he has a client to represent. He's charged with representing the people of South Dakota. Prosecuting is a tough job - I've done my share. Defendants always have excuses or reasons they think they ought to be given a break. It takes a tough advocate for the people to stand up and hold them accountable.
Anonymous said…
If you look at the ads that Lance Russell placed in the Rapid City Journal it is apparent that the only thing Lance would take into consideration in determining bail is the race of the individual and the crime. It Does not sound very impartial to me. OOps forgot Lance will most likely consider the political party of the defendant. The last thing we want is a bunch of democrats running rampant throughout the circuit. Lance will guarantee the voters not only to eradicate prarie dogs but also democrats.
Anonymous said…
I'm not a supporter of Lance. I don't think he has the experience to be a judge. But having practiced in front of Fuller, I can tell you that he is very liberal, and usually does his own "thing" regardless of what the law says. A judge that doesn't follow the law shouldn't be a judge, in my opinion. Lance may seem one sided in his job, but as previously stated, that is what he is elected and paid to be -- a prosecutor. Fuller won't reduce some violent offenders bail after one of his "bail reduction" goes out and kills their victims. Fuller has just been lucky enough not to get burned by his crazy liberalism yet.
Anonymous said…
You say you have "practiced in front of Judge Fuller" but from the tone and language of your note I don't believe you are a lawyer. I believe you are campaigning.
Anonymous said…
someone check out blogmore on this race and ask PP to say something about Lance's conspiracy theories in the hills. If you think Terri Williams is a Dem. hack, you are in fact, SA Russell, a nut.
Anonymous said…
Is it mature to name drop at public events when the names you use have not given you permission to use their names? How about stating that other current circuit court judges were not qualified when they were elected or appointed to the bench within six years of graduating from law school? What about the integrity of judges?
Anonymous said…
It must be really humiliating for Fuller, such a vastly superior legal mind, to have just barely beaten two vastly inferior prosecutors.

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