PIERRE | Things have come full-circle for South Dakota's newest Supreme Court Justice Patricia DeVaney. On Thursday, DeVaney took her oath of office in the state's Capitol Rotunda in Pierre, steps away from her first office as a young lawyer with the Attorney General's Office.
Now, more than 20 years later, DeVaney will be the 52nd justice to preside over the state's highest court in South Dakota's original supreme courtroom, located on the second floor of the Capitol.
Chief Justice David Gilbertson said during DeVaney's Thursday investiture ceremony that supreme court justices can leave significant impacts on the state, and appointing them is one of the most important tasks of a governor — one he said Republican Gov. Kristi Noem didn't take lightly when she had to fill a vacancy within her first few months as governor.
Noem said Thursday that DeVaney is "tough," noting that during her time as an assistant attorney general, DeVaney prosecuted one of South Dakota's few known serial killers Robert Leroy Anderson, among other high-profile cases. Noem also highlighted DeVaney's work as assistant attorney general defending the constitutionality of South Dakota's laws requiring "informed consent" prior to an abortion.
"Judge DeVaney has her name in history in helping to defend the rights of the unborn and the innocent," Noem said.
During her time as South Dakota's 6th Judicial Circuit judge, Noem said DeVaney was compassionate while presiding over family and juvenile cases, and "gave justice to victims and compassion to addicts, all in the name of fairness and justice." And with her preparedness and tough questions, Noem said DeVaney makes the lawyers that argue before her better.
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"That speaks volumes, because a leader is someone who makes other people better," Noem said.
DeVaney, originally from the small, central-South Dakota town of Polo, graduated summa cum laude from the University of South Dakota in 1990 before attending law school at the University of Virginia. She said Thursday that she was "lucky" to return home to South Dakota after graduating law school, when she began working for the Attorney General's Office in 1993 as an appellate and trial lawyer.
She remained with the Attorney General's Office until 2012, when former-Gov. Dennis Daugaard appointed her to South Dakota's 6th Judicial Circuit.
DeVaney is filling the seat vacated by Justice Steven Zinter, who unexpectedly died in October 2018 after serving on the bench since 2002. DeVaney said during Thursday's ceremony that Zinter had a "brilliant legal mind."
"I fully appreciate what a tall order it is to try to follow in the footsteps of someone like Justice Zinter," she said. "I may never reach that stage, but I will do my best to serve you as best I can in this new capacity."