Four candidates vie for two positions in 6th Circuit Court

The Sixth Circuit serves Haakon, Jackson, Bennett, Todd, Mellette, Jones, Stanley, Potter, Sully, Hughes, Hyde, Lyman, Tripp and Gregory Counties.

Jones County State's Attorney Anita Fuoss of Murdo will challenge incumbent Judge Lori Wilbur of Pierre. Pierre attorney Rose Ann Wendell will challenge incumbent Judge Kathleen Trandahl of Winner.

Fuoss has been an attorney for 20 years. She owns Jones County Title Company in Murdo and serves as state's attorney for the county.

She was raised on a farm in Jones County and received her law degree in 1986 from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. After law school, Fuoss worked as an attorney in Las Vegas doing business law before returning to Jones County in 1994 and starting a private practice in Murdo.

Fuoss said she decided to run for 6th Circuit Judge because she sees a problem with the distribution of judges in the large, 14-county circuit. She said since all four current 6th Circuit Judges live in the eastern third of the circuit, they put on a lot of miles each year.

"It's an issue more than anything of availability of service to the public," Fuoss said. "I believe people have a right to hear their case in their own county."

During the last few weeks of campaigning, Fuoss is trying to meet as many people as possible.

"I have talked to people who say 'why should we care? We've never been in trouble,' but what happens in the courtroom affects the whole community," she said.

Fuoss is single and has no children.

"I believe firmly that I can be a fair and impartial judge who would see to it that people get real service from the court system," she said.

Wilbur was elected 6th Circuit Judge in 1999 after serving seven years as magistrate judge for the circuit.

She was raised in Madison and earned her law degree in 1977 from the University of South Dakota.

She has nearly 30 years of legal experience including three years as an assistant attorney general and several years as a staff attorney for the South Dakota Legislative Research Council and the South Dakota Board of Regents. She has also worked in private practice.

When a circuit judge position opened in 1999, Wilbur ran against four other candidates and won.

"A judge has the power to affect people's property and their freedom," she said. "I learned from the very start to take that responsibility seriously."

Wilbur has served as judge in all 14 counties of the 6th Circuit and said she puts on about 12,000 miles each year traveling throughout the circuit.

Wilbur said she is qualified to continue serving the public not only because of her experience as an attorney and judge but because of her life experiences.

"I have a lot of connections to the state and this way of life," she said. "The values that I have are values the people of our state share."

Wilbur has two daughters who attend the University of South Dakota.

Wendell has worked as a private practice attorney in Pierre for the last six years. She has worked in all 14 counties of the 6th Circuit and in tribal court.

Wendell was raised in Kadoka. She worked in child protection for the South Dakota Department of Social Services for six years before earning her law degree in 1999 from the University of South Dakota.

"I understand central South Dakotans," she said. "I am involved in my community, and as a public servant, I would remember that I work for the people, not the other way around."

Most of Wendell's work as an attorney at Wendell Law has been focused on families and juveniles as well as some criminal defense.

"I've pretty much committed my career to working with families in this area," she said.

Wendell is married to Greg Wendell and has two grown stepchildren.

Trandahl was appointed 6th Circuit Judge in 1994 by Gov. Walter Miller. During her 12 years as judge, she has handled more than 38,000 civil and criminal cases, including more than 60 jury trials.

"I think that experience is key in this race," Trandahl said. "The taxpayers have invested these 12 years in me, and I think I have served them well."

Trandahl earned her law degree in 1985 from the University of South Dakota. Before being appointed judge, she worked in private practice and as the deputy state's attorney for Tripp County. She was also a law clerk for the 3rd Circuit.

Trandahl said, as a judge, she believes in accountability.

"If you insist on accountability and you show the public you care about what they are doing, you are providing a value system for many people who may not have gotten that growing up," she said.

Trandahl lives in Winner with her two teenage sons.

The two Sixth Circuit Judges running unopposed are Max Gors and James Anderson, both of Pierre.