By Stephen Lee firstname.lastname@example.org Jan 17, 2018
The Hughes County Commission on Tuesday hired just-retired U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler of Fort Pierre as interim state’s attorney to cover for State’s Attorney Wendy Kloeppner who is leaving in two weeks.
Seiler, 71, retired Dec. 31 after 22 years as a federal prosecutor, the past nearly three years working as the U.S. attorney for South Dakota.
Seiler told the Commission the idea is to “give you guys a little more time” to replace Kloeppner on a permanent basis. And it’s just “being a good neighbor,” as a resident of Fort Pierre across the Missouri River.
After the meeting, Seiler told the Capital Journal it was some good timing that led to his temporary position as county prosecutor.
Once he had announced last fall his plans to retire, some local law enforcement people contacted him to tell him Kloeppner planned to take a job as Lake County state’s attorney in Madison, South Dakota.
He and others thought Seiler could provide a good interim option, giving the County Commission time to make a good hire for a permanent replacement for Kloeppner, Seiler said.
“I met with a couple of (County) Commissioners. They were intrigued.”
He drafted a contract laying out the terms of him being an independently contracted prosecutor and not a county employee.
After two decades as a high-ranking prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota, Seiler was appointed as acting, then interim, U.S. attorney in March 2015 when Brendan Johnson left office to take a private job.
Seiler then was nominated by President Barack Obama as U.S. attorney and when the U.S. Senate didn’t get around in time to vote on his nomination, a federal judge named him to the position.
An Air Force veteran who graduated from law school in 1980, Seiler worked at a law firm in Mobridge, during which time he worked as a deputy state’s attorney in Campbell County for a time in the 1980s.
He began working as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in 1995.
Besides his long experience as a prosecutor, a main qualification Seiler has for being interim state’s attorney in Hughes County is, he says: “I do not want the job on a permanent basis. I do not intend to run for the position.”
Anyone hired as permanent state’s attorney by the County Commission would serve until the general election in November 2018. Whoever wins election then would serve out the last two years of Kloeppner’s term, which ends in 2020.
Kloeppner, previously a prosecutor in Sturgis,has been deputy state’s attorney for four-plus years in Pierre and state’s attorney for four-plus years.
“Wendy’s done a good job here in her nine years and it’s a loss to Hughes County that she’s going to Lake County,” Seiler said.
Seiler said he’s opened a private practice in Fort Pierre, using office space with the Mortensen firm downtown.
Seiler wrote a contract that would limit his interim in Hughes County to three months and change. By April 30, the County Commission should be able to hire a replacement, Seiler said.
He told the Commission he had talked to Kloeppner already about a transition.
“She has about 200 felony cases pending and one jury trial,” Seiler said. Until she leaves Feb. 2, he will work with her for a smooth transition, he said.
The Commission also expects to take advantage of Seiler’s experience by having him take a look around the state’s attorney’s office and suggest any possible changes, during his three-month interim position, according to comments made Tuesday.
Kloeppner is getting about a 19 percent raise by taking the job in Lake County.
The County Commission announced just before Christmas, when it learned of Kloeppner’s leaving, that it was taking applications for her replacement.
Seiler’s arrangement approved on Tuesday seems to indicate the Commission didn’t get any applications in the past 25 days that they wished to accept.
Seiler will be paid $8,500 per month.
Seiler said he arrived at that amount by looking at what Kloeppner’s salary is this year, about $84,000, or $7,000 per month; then adding in an amount to account for the county employee benefits he won’t receive as an independent contractor.
Those benefits roughly amount to about 22 percent of the salary amount, bringing him to $8,500 per month, Seiler said.
Seiler will be paid on a pro-rated basis as a deputy state’s attorney until Feb.2, working with Kloeppner during a transition, under the plan approved by the County Commission 4-0 on Tuesday to authorize Chairman Norm Weaver to sign Seiler’s contract.
Commissioner Tom Tveit was absent.