Message from your President
It’s the time of year to reflect on what you have done, what you didn’t do that you should have done and what you can do better. For most of us in the legal profession, the answer to the last of those questions of self-reflection is likely to be assisting the less fortunate meet their legal needs. There is no question that we in South Dakota, although fortunate beyond belief to live in a generous and financially thriving state, still have a significant portion of our population who simply can’t afford legal services; services that are often needed at a time when these folks are at one of the lowest points of their lives.
We have to do more for legal services. Funding cuts at the national level continue to erode at the already meager financial resources dedicated to providing legal services to society’s most vulnerable people. Both on and off the reservations in our state, people need the assistance of a lawyer and the answer all too often is there are not available resources to assist.
With Access to Justice, the State Bar of South Dakota has attempted to call upon our membership to help fill some of these needs. Many have answered the call. Many have not. We need to do a better job of utilizing those who are willing to help. As we continue to work with the Chief Justice’s Legal Services Task Force, we are able to look more closely at A2J, its role in providing legal services as well as its shortcomings from both a financial and delivery of service perspective.
The Legal Services Task Force members will be meeting in early December to discuss the possibility of merging into a state-wide entity. The hope is that all participants and providers will be able to focus on the main objective which is to get the most help we can to the most people on the limited resources available. The lack of adequate funding is readily apparent. However, we cannot get caught up in the parochial details of a potential merger. Compromises will have to occur. Resources, including A2J’s, may need to be redirected. If legal service organizations in South Dakota could ever hope to join 47 other states in obtaining financial assistance from their state government, every possible step must be taken to provide assurance that we have done all that we can to streamline and make legal services as efficient as possible.
We have been fortunate that our Bar Commission and our Bar Foundation have made legal services a priority by providing financial assistance as we are able. Doing so is the right thing to do, but it does hinder our ability as a profession to do other things through our educational and charitable arm, the Bar Foundation.
The Bar Foundation Board of Directors is asking each of you to step up to the plate and offer financial support to the Foundation. The opt-out contributions that are paid with annual dues has been overwhelmingly supported by our members. We thank each of you that contribute and encourage every member to do so. However, these contributions still fall far short of what the Bar Foundation was receiving in times when IOLTA receipts were approaching $200,000 annually.
To enhance our ability as a profession to assist worthy causes and organizations, the Bar Foundation Board is launching a Fellows program. Details of the program appear elsewhere in this newsletter. This is an opportunity to help make a difference as we work to build the endowment of the Bar Foundation so that it can have a well-funded base upon which annual grants can be made to worthwhile causes. Please consider becoming a Fellow at any level you are able to afford. Each contribution will help and your support of our profession is greatly appreciated. We can do better!!
It is with the utmost respect and appreciation that we say farewell to a dedicated public servant. Senator Tim Johnson has served the people of South Dakota for nearly 40 years. Throughout, Senator Johnson has always been supportive of issues of importance to our profession, particularly legal services. The Senator understands the importance of legal services funding and has done his part to try and continue federal funding of this program which assists so many people who might otherwise have their rights and causes unrepresented at risk of great individual loss. I have asked Senator Johnson to share a few thoughts about his professional life of serving the public.
“I learned the value of a good education from an early age. My dad was a professor and my parents always emphasized the importance of education and the necessity of hard work. I was interested in politics from a young age and saw public service as a way to improve our communities and the quality of life for ourselves and the next generation.
I attended the University of South Dakota where I earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, before returning to USD for a law degree. After law school, I opened up a private practice in Vermillion and balanced this new firm with a growing family. In 1978, I saw an opportunity to run for a seat in the South Dakota Legislature. Even though I enjoyed practicing law, I believed I could help more people and make a bigger difference in my community through public service. I believe that lawyers have an important responsibility to give back to their communities and for me that meant running for public office. I was fortunate to win that race and soon found myself in Pierre, as a young legislator. My legal education provided me with a solid foundation that helped me learn to navigate the legislative process, work which I found to be very rewarding.
That race in 1978 was the first of twelve races for elective office I won. As I look back on my 36 years in office, which includes four years in the South Dakota House of Representatives, four in the South Dakota Senate, ten in the U.S. House of Representatives, and eighteen in the U.S. Senate, I have only grown to appreciate the grounding my education at USD Law provided me. USD Law gave me the tools to excel at the highest levels of government. I’m grateful that our state continues to be home to such a high-quality law program providing students with an education that opens up boundless opportunities.
Even though it’s bittersweet to retire from public office, I’ll enjoy being able to spend more time in South Dakota. I’ll always be thankful for the opportunity that South Dakotans have given me, time and time again, to represent them first in Pierre and then in Washington.
Thank you USD Law and keep up the good work!”
-Senator Tim Johnson
Thank you Senator Johnson for all you have done. I speak for all members of our State Bar of South Dakota in wishing you and Barbara a well-deserved and enjoyable retirement.
I want to close by wishing each of you the most blessed of holiday seasons from Jill and me. Remember to take time to share with family and friends. In addition, take time to do something for someone in need. Your reward will be felt in your heart. Happy holidays!!!!