Randy Seiler for Attorney General

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Seiler awarded buckle for donated legal work for SD 4-H rodeo during tense year

By Stephen Lee stephen.lee@capjournal.com

On Friday, Aug. 17, Randy Seiler, center, was presented with a South Dakota 4-H Rodeo buckle in appreciation of pro bono legal work he did for state 4-H this past year. Presenting the buckle during the state 4-H Finals Rodeo in Fort Pierre were, from left, Teri Heninger, Kasey Hanson, Shelly Cowan, Seiler and Casey Cowan. (Photo courtesy State 4-H)

If a lawyer wins a rodeo buckle, is the word “bull” always inscribed on it?

Well, not in this case, although the suggestion makes Randy Seiler laugh.

The Fort Pierre attorney was awarded a buckle Friday at the opening of the South Dakota 4-H State Finals Rodeo at the Stanley County Fairgrounds in the Casey Tibbs Arena.

The buckle is ornate, with a couple gems, the 4-H clover and it says “South Dakota 4-H Rodeo – 2018” with “Randy Seiler” along the bottom.

It was given to Seiler for his pro bono legal counsel this year for South Dakota 4-H Rodeo in defending its long practice of having separate boys and girls events, which seemingly suddenly came under fire.

State extension leaders, who are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told local 4-H rodeo supporters that USDA’s attorneys in Washington were saying it had to change because of Title IX laws that 45 years ago ruled women had to have equality in access to and resources for athletics and other extracurricular activities in schools.

Seiler says the problem was USDA appeared to be using a different interpretation of the Title IX laws than the U.S. Department of Education had been using for decades. The DOE allowed for separate mens and womens sports in colleges, for example, as long as there were measures taken to provide basic equality in the number of teams and/or offerings. So, for example, there could be football for men in colleges; while field hockey and softball were sports for women.

But the fairly recent USDA missive appeared to be that 4-H rodeo events no longer could be separated for boys and girls.

Casey Cowan, a longtime local 4-H supporter and adult leader, was one of the 4-H leaders who presented the buckle to Seiler on Friday.

He said that thanks to Seiler’s work, done at no cost to 4-H, USDA honchos told South Dakota extension leaders and 4-H supporters in July that; “it will not take action at this time on the Title IX regulations as has been previously interpreted for South Dakota 4-H Rodeo.”

It’s a huge deal for South Dakota and especially the Pierre and Fort Pierre region, where the 4-H state finals rodeo is held every August, Cowan said.

This year, about 530 youth from across the state competed in the three-day event last weekend, Cowan said. About 1,500 4-H members take part in rodeo events across the state each year, he said..

State 4-H rodeo is a nonprofit and no funding comes in to the 4-H rodeo foundation from state sources and no funds from the local, regional and state 4-H rodeos go to state extension sources, Cowan said.

Seiler said he was surprised to be given the award.

“It was an incredibly nice and sensitive gesture on their part,” he told the Capital Journal. “If there is a group that personifies South Dakota traditions and South Dakota values and the South Dakota way of life, I mean, it’s the folks and families involved in 4-H rodeo with their children. That’s as good as it gets.”

Seiler spent two decades as a federal prosecutor working in the U.S. attorney’s office in the state, including a couple of years as the U.S. attorney. He’s lived in Fort Pierre for years and served a short term on the city council.

Seiler is campaigning now as the Democratic candidate for state attorney general in the November election, including over the weekend at the 4-H state finals in his hometown. .

But Cowan and Seiler both said that had nothing to do with the 4-H issue.

In a written presentation of the buckle, 4-H rodeo leaders said: “Over the last six months, Randy Seiler has offered legal counsel, made phone calls and contacts and recruited resources to assist the South Dakota 4-H Rodeo Boards which has allowed closure to this long-standing issue. Randy asked for absolutely nothing in return – he made himself available, never too busy for an email or phone call because Randy believes in the tradition of South Dakota 4-H Rodeo and the values and lessons it teaches our South Dakota youth.”

In other news on Tuesday about Seiler winning awards, U.S. Attorney Ronald Parsons in Sioux Falls issued a news release announcing that Seiler recently received the Richard S. Arnold award for distinguished service in August at the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference held in Des Moines.

Arnold was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit from 1980 until his death in 2004.

Recipients of the award are honored “for their professional excellence, leadership in the legal community, significant contributions of volunteer legal services in underserved communities and service as a mentor to less-experienced lawyers,” according to the news release.

Seiler is only the fourth South Dakotan to receive “the coveted award,” according to the news release from Parsons.

U.S. Attorney Attends Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

U.S. Attorney Attends Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference

Former U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler receives Richard S. Arnold Award for Distinguished Service

United States Attorney Ron Parsons attended the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference held in Des Moines, Iowa, on August 15-17, 2018.  The conference is a gathering of federal judges and attorneys in the Eighth Circuit, which consists of South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas.

The conference featured an address from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as an appearance by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.  Additional speakers included two native Iowans: Internationally renowned opera star Simon Estes and Medal of Honor recipient Sal Giunta.  The conference was presided over by the Honorable Lavenski R. Smith, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Of special note, Randy Seiler, former U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota, received the Richard S. Arnold Award for Distinguished Service.  Judge Richard S. Arnold (1936-2004) of Texarkana, Arkansas, served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit from 1980 until his death in 2004.  Recipients are honored for their professional excellence, leadership in the legal community, significant contributions of volunteer legal services in underserved communities, and service as a mentor to less-experienced lawyers or law students, all characteristics of Judge Arnold.  Mr. Seiler is only the fourth South Dakotan to receive this coveted award.

AG candidates open to looking at transparency laws

By Dana Hess For the S.D. Newspaper Association
 Aug 20, 2018

SIOUX FALLS — A group of newspaper journalists recently quizzed the attorney general candidates about government transparency issues and found both men open to considering changes to the laws that journalists find problematic.

Meeting with the two candidates – Republican Jason Ravnsborg and Democrat Randy Seiler – were members of the South Dakota Newspaper Association First Amendment Committee.

Both candidates were asked to use an A through F scale to grade South Dakota on its openness and transparency laws. The higher grade came from Ravnsborg, a Yankton attorney, who gave the state a B minus.

“We’ve got room for improvement,” Ravnsborg said, “but I don’t believe we’re as bad as a number of the surveys that have been pushed around the country showed.”

The grade from Seiler, a former U.S. Attorney, came in at a C minus.

During his campaign, Seiler said he has heard complaints about methamphetamine and opioid use, “but I also hear a lot about public corruption aspects, the obvious Mid-Central Cooperative and EB-5.”

Getting South Dakota’s grade up to an A, according to Ravnsborg, would take better transparency by the state’s Bar Association so that a list of lawyers who have been disciplined is more readily accessible to the public.

“It is a public record, but there is no good list,” Ravnsborg said. “Why not make a list that’s all in one place?”

For Seiler, the road to an A grade goes through a review of public corruption statutes like those found in Initiated Measure 22 and a more transparent standard for involving South Dakota in other state’s lawsuits.

Seiler cited South Dakota’s role in lawsuits to overturn the pre-existing conditions provision of the Affordable Care Act and an effort to find the Clean Water Act unconstitutional.

“I don’t know what factors were made or taken into consideration in making that decision,” Seiler said. “It obviously should not be political. There should be standards based on what’s in the best interest of the people of the state of South Dakota.”

The candidates were told about journalists’ frustration with abuse of the open meetings law, particularly the provisions that allow executive sessions for consulting with an attorney about litigation or discussing personnel matters.

Ravnsborg said he has heard the same complaints about local elected boards discussing regular business during closed session.

“I don’t know that it’s always intentional,” Ravnsborg said. “I do think it’s probably small towns predominantly that don’t necessarily know the rules or aren’t getting the greatest legal advice.”

Seiler said he was familiar with local boards as a former Mobridge School Board member and as a former member of the Fort Pierre City Council. He has also filled in as Hughes County State’s Attorney.

“Just because they’re a lay board, they don’t get an exception for following the rule of law,” Seiler said. “Certainly that’s their obligation—to ensure they are familiar with and in compliance with the statute.”

Both candidates were open to considering the idea of having executive sessions recorded. In the event the legality of the meeting was challenged, the recording could be reviewed in a judge’s chambers.

A 2009 state law declaring a presumption of openness for government records came with more than 20 exceptions. One of the exceptions is government correspondence, including emails.

Ravnsborg said official documents should be open to the public. “Emails are problematic,” Ravnsborg said. “They’re so quick.”

Seiler, too, was open to reviewing the exceptions.

“The presumption is that they are open, but then we’ve crafted all of these exceptions,” Seiler said. “We need to narrow those. We need to look at those.”

Both candidates favored treating as public records the confidentiality agreements in state lawsuits.

“I believe that agreements should be more open and transparent, especially when you’re involving tax dollars,” Ravnsborg said.

According to Seiler, confidentiality agreements aren’t allowed under any circumstances in lawsuits handled by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“I can’t think of anything, right now, that should be an exception to that blanket rule,” Seiler said. “If you’re involved in litigation and you’re paying a settlement and you’re using government money to pay the settlement or settle litigation, the public should have access to that.”

In South Dakota, law enforcement investigative records for closed and inactive cases as well as police reports generated by calls for service are not open records. Both candi-dates said they were open to reviewing that policy as well as reviewing the proper times to release 911 calls and body cam and dash cam videos. Both were open to expanding the release of booking photos to include high level misdemeanors.

If elected, both candidates said that creating more transparency in state government would start with the attorney general’s office.

In addition to setting standards for South Dakota’s involvement in litigation, Seiler said he would improve the online form citizens use to report consumer affairs abuses.

“Citizens should be able to have a very open access to the attorney general’s office on these issues,” Seiler said.

Ravnsborg said he would add transparency to the AG’s use of the Drug Control Fund. The fund comes from forfeitures in the state’s drug cases that are used to pay for grants to law enforcement agencies in the state.

“We’ll have more transparency on how the money comes in and how it’s granted out,” Ravnsborg said. “I would like to shine some light on the process.”

Nonprofit forms to support Badlands National Park

The Badlands National Park Conservancy was recently formed. The conservancy filed its South Dakota incorporation papers in May and is awaiting approval of its application for federal tax-exempt status. – Ryan Hermens, Journal Staff

Seth Tupper Journal staff 
Aug 19, 2018

Despite drawing approximately 1 million visitors annually, Badlands National Park has lacked the support that some other popular national parks receive from nonprofit organizations known as “friends groups.”
A newly formed nonprofit, the Badlands National Park Conservancy, aims to change that.

The conservancy filed its South Dakota incorporation papers in May and is awaiting approval of its application for federal tax-exempt status.

Mike Pflaum, superintendent of Badlands National Park, said nonprofit friends groups have benefited other parks around the nation in myriad ways.
“I just think it’s the right way to do business,” he said. “It brings communities into the parks and brings the parks out to the community through citizen involvement at the grassroots level.”
There was at least one previous effort, which was ultimately aborted, to operate a friends group for Badlands National Park. Some of the people who supported the previous effort are active in the new group.

The conservancy’s incorporation papers list the first board members as Randy Seiler, of Fort Pierre; Susan Ricci, Kenny Putnam, Cheryl Chapman and Johnny Brockelsby, of Rapid City; Bill Schreier, of Custer; and Jackie Kusser, of Wall.

Besides supporting Badlands National Park, the conservancy also plans to support the park’s neighbor, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

At Badlands National Park, Pflaum said he hopes to work with the conservancy to develop a list of collaborative projects and programs. He said possibilities could include the creation of a youth employment program in the park, support of the park’s ongoing bison-range expansion, and perhaps someday a new visitor center.

The park also has an estimated $34 million backlog of deferred maintenance to buildings, roads, trails, picnic areas and other infrastructure. While the park hopes to receive congressional funding to reduce the backlog, Pflaum said the backlog is indicative of the many opportunities for collaborative projects with the conservancy.

Pflaum’s experience with similar nonprofit groups includes his time at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which receives support from the Mount Rushmore Society.

Elsewhere in South Dakota, nonprofit groups supporting national park sites include the Friends of Wind Cave National Park, the Black Hills Parks & Forests Association, and the Friends of the Missouri National Recreational River.

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