Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo pledged to treat the accused fairly and deliver justice to crime victims during his swearing in ceremony Monday in the Pennington County Courthouse.
“For me and for mine, in this building, we will be called by justice,” Vargo said at the morning ceremony.
Vargo defeated longtime incumbent Glenn Brenner in the Republican primary in June and was unopposed in the general election. Since then, Vargo said he has been learning the “nuts and bolts” of the job with the benefit of a designation as a special assistant attorney general that was granted by South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley.
Vargo is the right man for the job, according to retired magistrate judge Michael O’Connor.
“He will bring a wealth of practical experience and with that experience he brings an ability to be an excellent mentor to help those attorneys newer to the practice of law,” O’Connor said.
Vargo, 48, is a Kansas native who earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and a law degree from Georgetown University.
He went on to become an assistant state’s attorney in Dade County, Fla., for three years before accepting a job in 1992 as a Pennington County deputy state’s attorney.
He spent three years in the office before moving on to private practice and eventually the U.S. Attorney’s Office where he worked for almost 15 years before retiring nearly two years ago.
Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom called Vargo a highly regarded professional and a team player.
“I’ve known Mark for many years. I’m excited about working with him,” said Thom, a former director of the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation. "He works well with everybody."
Vargo said that one of the most obvious changes court watchers will notice is a shift in the assignment of misdemeanor and felony cases among his 16 staff attorneys.
Younger, less experienced attorneys will now handle only misdemeanor cases, leaving the serious felony cases to the more experienced attorneys.
The shift will give new attorneys more trial experience in magistrate cases, while felony prosecutors will have extra time to put together the best cases possible, Vargo said.
“Hopefully, that will have a visible impact,” he said.
Vargo is also optimistic that Pennington County will soon follow Hughes County’s example and implement an intensive probation program for those convicted for driving under the influence. Like Drug Court, the program appears to reduce recidivism in DUI cases, he said.
Vargo also plans to try a case with each of his staff in the coming months.
“Court is what I’ve always loved about this job,” he said.
Brenner, who served as state's attorney for 16 years, said last month that he has taken a job as an attorney in Texas.