Rapid City judge: Lost title result of dispute with state Supreme Court justice, not lawsuit


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RAPID CITY, South Dakota — A state circuit court judge in Rapid City was stripped of his administrative title because of a dispute with the chief justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court and not an ongoing lawsuit in which he's accused of violating the Indian Child Welfare Act, the lower court judge said this week.

Chief Justice David Gilbertson issued an order this week removing Judge Jeff Davis as presiding judge of the 7th Circuit, a position the 67-year-old Davis had held since 2006. A presiding judge, in part, assigns cases and supervises court operations within the circuit.

Gilbertson appointed 7th Circuit Judge Craig Pfeifle as Davis' replacement, the Rapid City Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1EpAk0b ).

Davis is a defendant in a federal lawsuit that accuses him, Pennington County State's Attorney Mark Vargo and the Department of Social Services of violating the Indian Child Welfare Act in their handling of abuse and neglect cases involving Native American children.

The suit, filed in 2013 by the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes and Native American parents, challenged procedures by Davis and the Department of Social Services when Native American children are removed from their homes.

Chief U.S. District Judge Jeffrey ruled against the defendants in March, agreeing with plaintiffs that at initial custody hearings, Native American families were denied the right to present witnesses and question officials before the state took custody of their children.

Davis denies the procedures violate the federal act. He and other defendants have all filed motions to reconsider, which are still pending.

Davis told the newspaper this week that Gilbertson's order has "absolutely nothing to do" with the lawsuit.

"The change in presiding judge is the result of an internal dispute between Justice Gilbertson and myself over space issues in the Pennington County Courthouse."

Davis will continue both as a 7th Circuit judge and as the liaison between the circuit and the Pennington County Commission.

"Ordinarily, I wouldn't have any comment, but the federal lawsuit involving children is too important to be dragged into this," he said.

A message left for Gilbertson by The Associated Press was not immediately returned Saturday.

Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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