Prosecutors win judgeships in two state court circuits, incumbent holds on in third contested race

By: - November 9, 2022 1:03 pm

Lawrence County State's Attorney John H. Fitzgerald.
Lawrence County State’s Attorney John H. Fitzgerald. (submitted photo)

The longtime Lawrence County State’s Attorney will ride out the twilight of his legal career on the bench in South Dakota’s Fourth Judicial Circuit.

John H. Fitzgerald, 67, bested four other candidates Tuesday for the single open seat in the circuit – the largest slate of candidates for a single judgeship since the 1972 election.

Near the end of the campaign, candidate Fitzgerald earned an admonishment from the South Dakota Special Committee on Judicial Election Campaign Intervention for holding two political positions in the county. Judges are required to avoid political activity. Fitzgerald resigned his county GOP posts shortly after that news broke.

Ultimately, it didn’t move the needle in a race where Fitzgerald’s name was arguably the most recognizable. The Deadwood-based prosecutor, who spent nearly three decades handling criminal cases in Lawrence County after beginning his career as Butte County State’s Attorney, led the race with 36 % of the vote. A total of 8,124 cast their ballot for Fitzgerald.

“I look forward to applying my experience, skills and knowledge from being a State’s Attorney for the past 40 years to the new position of circuit court judge,” Fitzgerland said Wednesday in a written statement.

Behind the victor were private attorney and former Division of Criminal Investigation Director David Natvig in second place, followed by third-highest vote-getter Chad Callahan, a magistrate judge, then by private attorneys Jennifer Tomac and Tina Hogue in fourth and fifth place.

On the opposite end of the state, Assistant Attorney General Mark Barnett sewed up a seat on the Second Judicial Circuit bench, besting Magistrate Judge Eric Johnson 63-37% for the Sioux Falls-based post. 

In the Third Circuit, 68-year-old incumbent Robert Spears defeated Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore in a much closer race. The Watertown-based judgeship saw Spears come out ahead by less than 1,000 votes to win 51-49%.

Fitzgerald and Spears will both face mandatory retirement at age 70. The governor will choose replacement judges to serve out their terms in the interim period between their retirement and the next judicial election in 2030.

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John Hult
John Hult

John is the senior reporter for South Dakota Searchlight. He has more than 15 years experience covering criminal justice, the environment and public affairs in South Dakota, including more than a decade at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.