On September 19, 2017, Governor Dennis Daugaard announced that he had chosen Judge Steven Jensen, the presiding judge of the First Judicial Circuit, and a fourteen-year veteran of the bench, to fill the opening on the South Dakota Supreme Court created by the June retirement of Justice Lori S. Wilbur. Judge Jensen is Governor Daugaard’s third appointment to the high Court.
The First Judicial Circuit, over which Judge Jensen currently presides, encompasses fourteen counties in southeastern South Dakota. In that position, Judge Jensen has been instrumental in the implementation of both drug and DUI courts and contributed to juvenile justice reform and technological advances.
Judge Jensen comes to the Court already a respected jurist. During his time on the bench, he has presided over numerous high-profile proceedings, including murder charges against Ethan Johns, who ultimately pleaded guilty to shooting Turner County Deputy Chad Mechels, as well as civil litigation challenging a proposed $10 billion refinery in Union County. In 2008, Judge Jensen decided that James Strahl was entitled to a new trial after a jailhouse snitch was found to have lied, and the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld his decision.
Judge Jensen grew up in Wakonda, South Dakota. He graduated from Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1995, and he earned his law degree from the University of South Dakota in 1988. He clerked for Justice Richard Sabers on the South Dakota Supreme Court before entering private practice in Dakota Dunes and Sioux City. Governor Mike Rounds appointed Judge Jensen to the circuit court bench in 2003, and he was re-elected without opposition in 2006 and 2014.