Three area South Dakota counties have received new court officials in moves resembling a domino effect.
Presiding First Circuit Judge Steven Jensen of Elk Point, who oversees 14 southeast South Dakota counties, appointed the officials.
“It started when Linette Schnabel retired as Hutchinson County clerk of courts,” said Kim Allison, First Circuit Court administrator in Yankton.
Jensen named Dorene Winckler — who had been the Douglas County clerk of courts in Armour — as the new Hutchinson County clerk of courts in Olivet. Winckler graduated from Plankinton High School, and she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Mount Marty College in Yankton.
With Winckler’s transfer, Jensen then named Denise Sparks — who had been the Charles Mix County deputy clerk-magistrate in Lake Andes for the last 11 years — as the Douglas County clerk of courts.
The changing of the guard in the two neighboring counties represented somewhat of an unusual twist, Allison said.
“Clerks don’t normally go from one county to another in the same position,” she said. “We often do have deputy clerks who are hired as clerks.”
The job change represented a homecoming for Winckler in more ways than one, Allison said.
Winckler worked as a deputy clerk in Hutchinson County from 1994 until 2002, when she was appointed clerk of courts for Douglas County. Besides returning to her former courthouse, the move to Hutchinson County allows Winckler to work closer to home.
“Dorene lives in Scotland, and that’s why she chose to work in (neighboring) Olivet rather than continue to work in Armour,” Allison said. “She applied for the transfer to that position, and it was granted.”
Sparks, an Armour High School graduate, saw not only the opportunity for a promotion within the judicial system but also the chance to work closer to home when the Douglas County vacancy opened in Armour.
“Denise saw the post internally for the Douglas County clerk of courts, and she applied for the position,” Allison said.
The Hutchinson County clerk’s office is open four days a week. The Douglas County clerk’s office is open three days a week.
Winckler and Sparks performed double duty for a time, Allison said. “They were both helping cover both their new and old offices during the transitions,” the court administrator said.
The judicial chain reaction was completed this month, with changes made in Charles Mix County in the wake of Sparks’ departure.
Deb Pfeffer remains the Charles Mix County clerk of courts. However, Jenny Robertson, who had served as the half-time deputy clerk and half-time court services secretary, became Sparks’ replacement. In turn, Kaylene Goehring was hired as Robertson’s replacement.
“Staffing (for each county) is based on caseload, primarily,” Allison said. “Douglas gets additional help from Charles Mix deputies when they need it, and Hutchinson and Bon Homme share Kathy Mehlhaff as a deputy.”
The appointment of judicial positions follows a process, Allison said.
“These positions are posted on the state job website, and applications are handled through that system. I also advertise in the newspapers,” she said. “The individual judges generally don’t participate in the hiring process for clerks and court services staff. I do all the interviewing in the circuit in conjunction with the supervisor for whichever office the vacancy is in.”
In a news release, Jensen said he is confident in his appointments of Winckler and Sparks to their new positions. He pointed to their years of experience in the clerk of courts offices and their past records of accomplishment.
Jensen indicated he believes the women’s years of experience will ensure the Hutchinson and Douglas clerk of courts offices “will continue to provide a superior level of services to their respective counties.”
Jensen extended his thanks to Schnabel for her dedicated service to the Unified Judicial System and the Hutchinson County courts during the past 38 years. A reception was held in her honor at the Hutchinson County courthouse.
First hired as the circuit administrative assistant in 1975, Schnabel was appointed in 2000 as the Hutchinson County clerk of courts by then-First Circuit Presiding Judge Arthur Rusch of Vermillion.
The current judicial juggling isn’t the only area South Dakota court change in recent years.
Bon Homme County Clerk of Courts Roger Hisek of Tyndall retired in March 2011 after serving in the clerk’s office for more than 35 years. He was first hired as a deputy clerk in 1976 and then appointed as clerk of courts in 1991.
Hisek was replaced by his deputy clerk, Joanne Balvin of Tyndall, who had served in her position for more than 20 years.
The clerk is responsible for managing the clerk of courts’ office, which maintains all records and files of the court system. This includes all civil, criminal, probate and traffic files. In addition, as a clerk magistrate, the clerk of courts can perform weddings, set bonds, issue arrest and search warrants, and hold court on petty offenses and certain misdemeanors.
Originally, the clerk of courts was elected by county voters. However, as a result of a constitutional amendment unifying the court system in 1975, the position of clerk of courts became an appointive position by the presiding judge of each circuit.
The First Judicial Circuit consists of the following counties: Aurora, Bon Homme, Brule, Buffalo, Charles Mix, Clay, Davison, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson, McCook, Turner, Union and Yankton counties.
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