An equal justice statue sits outside the doors of the Minnehaha County Courthouse in Sioux Falls. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)
SIOUX FALLS – Federal grant funding from the Violence Against Women Act could soon bring a domestic violence specialist to the Minnehaha County State’s Attorney’s Office to help shepherd victims through the criminal justice system.
The Minnehaha County Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow State’s Attorney Daniel Haggar to apply for a Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors grant, which is federal funding administered through the state Department of Public Safety.
The county agreed to fund 25% of the salary for an eighth victim-witness assistant in Haggar’s office, covering $21,578 of the $86,716 annual expense.
The new position would be dedicated to intimate partner violence cases “where the offender is deemed to be a high risk for lethality or a high risk to re-offend,” according to Haggar’s letter to county commissioners.
The grant funding runs for one year, Haggar told commissioners, but it can be renewed each year.
On the defense lawyer side, commissioners unanimously approved moving a legal assistant’s position at the Minnehaha County Public Defender’s Office from part-time to full-time.
The county created the position in 2020 in hopes of easing the burden for Public Defender Traci Smith’s legal team, but the part-time nature of the position clashed with cost-of-living realities in Sioux Falls. Three times, the office hired and trained someone to do the work, and on all three occasions the person left for full-time work in short order.
Essentially, once each person was trained as a legal assistant, they took advantage of labor-hungry law firms that offered benefits and full-time wages.
“Each time the person would leave, the exit interviews indicated that the cost of day care made it too difficult to stay in the position,” Smith told commissioners.
Leftover money from staff turnover would help fund the transition from part-time to full-time, Smith told commissioners, so she’d only need a supplement in her budget of $30,000 to cover the $64,000 cost. She had previously signaled a need for a new full-time position in 2024.
Commissioner Joe Kipley said the money-saving goal of keeping the position part-time hadn’t worked out as the county hoped.
“I think sometimes we get pennywise and pound foolish,” said Kipley. “I think we need to get more strategic with our hiring.”
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