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Chief Justice Demotes ICWA Lawsuit Judge… Over Space, Not Race

The Pfeifles must be buttering the right bread. In April, Governor Dennis Daugaard appointed Jane Wipf Pfeifle as a judge in the Seventh Circuit. She joined her husband Craig Pfeifle on the Seventh Circuit bench.

Then Thursday, Chief Justice David Gilbertson appointed Craig Pfeifle as presiding judge of the Seventh Circuit. The appointment surprised many, because Pfeifle replaces Judge Jeff Davis, who didn’t resign from the job and is still judging in the Seventh Circuit.

Judge Davis is a defendant in the federal lawsuit in which Lakota plaintiffs contend that Davis and the state have engaged in systematic suppression of American Indian parental rights in child custody hearings, in violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. So far, Davis and the state are losing that lawsuit.

Judge Davis insists his demotion has nothing to do with the ICWA lawsuit:

A disagreement between 7th Circuit Judge Jeff Davis and South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson is behind the abrupt change in leadership for the circuit, Davis said on Friday.

…”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 told the Journal. “It has absolutely nothing to do with the federal lawsuit or the Judicial Qualifications Commission.”

Davis declined to give details of the dispute between himself and Gilbertson.

…”Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have any comment, but the federal lawsuit involving children is too important to be dragged into this,” Davis said [Andrea J. Cook, “Davis: Dispute with SD Chief Justice Prompted Loss of 7th Circuit Leadership Post,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.05.23].

The cynics among us may be inclined to believe that a spat over courthouse space would be more likely to result in South Dakota officials whacking a judge than concerns over discrimination against Indians. But whatever the cause, folks concerned about South Dakota’s ICWA non-compliance can take some satisfaction in seeing one of the main players in that non-compliance getting a little come-down-ance.


  1. larry kurtz 2015-05-23 10:35

    Justice Gilbertson is the highest ranking sitting Democrat in the state, right?

  2. jerry 2015-05-23 17:09

    I say good riddance to Davis. He always seemed like he had a real breathing problem.

  3. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-05-23 18:51

    I got to know Jane Wipf in the early 90s when she was on the board of Women/Working Against Violence. I had great respect for her. I hope her basic principles have no changed. She’ll be very good.

    Speaking of good, Good Riddance to Davis.

  4. Roger Cornelius 2015-05-23 20:20

    It’s been said that if Rapid Citians want a meeting with Davis the best place to find him is at VFW Club during happy hour, it is daily ritual.

    Jay Davis’ violation of ICWA should not cause him to be demoted, they should cause him to be removed from the judicial bench and disbarred.

  5. 90 schilling 2015-05-24 14:20

    Davis’s denial of culpability on the ICWA situation as well as thumping Judge Fuller for calling out police in racist situations shows a side of Davis not proper for his position before or after his demotion.

    Even if Pete Fuller was not performing in accordance to the proper etiquette, Davis obviously provided no direction or boundaries.

    I call BS on Davis’ response…

  6. Bob Newland 2015-05-24 14:22

    Roger!!! It’s JEFF Davis, not JAY Davis. Jay Davis is a public defender who has, if anything, opposed violations of ICWA.

    And, yes, the VFW is a good place to find JEFF Davis.

  7. Curt 2015-05-24 14:51

    … and Jay Davis retired from his position as a Pennington County Public Defender as of Friday, May 22. Demoting Judge Davis may prove fairly inconsequential, but defendants lost a strong and effective advocate when Jay Davis left the building.

  8. Roger Cornelius 2015-05-24 19:25

    Thanks for the correction Bob, you are absolutely right.

  9. Lynn 2015-05-24 19:54


    Thank you for going off topic which opens up an interesting documentary on pot addiction.

    “Marijuana: A Second Class Addiction

    Seems to be plenty more people suffering from pot dependency to put it less threatening than just coming out to say what it really is being an addiction on you tube. I’ll be visiting with law enforcement agencies and addiction centers to find out more hard data about the social costs of legalization especially the impact on minors. The drug war expense clock and then x 10 for the social costs as a result of legalization. :)

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-24 20:06

    Again? Can we stick with information on Judge Davis Chief Justice Gilbertson, and this ICWA problem? Is there any chance the state Supreme Court gives a rip about clearing up our ICWA issues?

  11. larry kurtz 2015-05-24 20:07


  12. Bob Newland 2015-05-25 09:49

    We’ve wrung out all the stuff we don’t know about Jeff Davis and the bread-buttering Pfeifles. I’d much rather argue with the incessantly moronic Lynn, who thinks a failed prohibition policy is a good policy.

  13. Lynn 2015-05-25 11:24

    “incessantly moronic Lynn” Thank you for the compliment Bob! Your track record further reinforces why this gateway drug should never be legalized. Peace! :)

  14. bearcreekbat 2015-05-25 12:53

    Cory, I understand your concern about getting off the Judge Davis topic by discussing marijuana and children so let me tie it in.

    Several years ago a 15 year old sold an ounce of pot to a violent meth head turned undercover agent. Judge Davis was assigned to the case. Law enforcement wanted to make deal where the the 15 year old would work undercover and help find other people involved in pot, in exchange for probation (like they did with the meth head after he committed violent offenses). Neither the 15 year old nor his parents thought much of the idea, as they worried about their kid’s safety.

    The child admitted his offense, but since he would not take the offered deal and and work as an undercover DEA pawn Judge Davis imposed the most severe punishment then available on this first time offender. The child spent the next three years of his life in Janklow’s infamous boot camp.

    Any judge who would punish a child for refusing to become an undercover drug agent does not deserve to sit on the bench.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-25 16:59

    Well done, BCB, and good story! It does seem harsh to say, “Put your life at risk by working for us or face the stiffest punishment possible.” But even that doesn’t get Davis demoted… and our Chief Justice is leaving him on the bench. Do you know, BCB, what exactly the space spat is about? And does the “presiding judge” title bring any perks? Does it hurt Davis to lose that title?

  16. Bob Newland 2015-05-25 17:36

    The presiding judge gets to assign cases to the other judges, and gets to assign plums (if one happens to show up) to him/herself. Presiding judge also gets to refer to him/herself as “Presiding Judge,” which, I guess, means something in those circles, and at the VFW.

  17. bearcreekbat 2015-05-25 18:07

    Cory, first one more aspect to the story. As is typically done, a court services worker was assigned to the case to analyze the 15 year old’s situation and make sentencing recommendations to the court. Here the court services worker recommended leniency given the child’s history and acceptance of responsibility for his single transgression. That Davis ignored this recommendation made the case even more unfortunate for the child, his family members, and his community.

    As for the space dispute, I have no knowledge about that argument. I think Bob is fairly accurate on the perks a presiding judge gets, and I think there is also some added compensation for the extra responsibilities. The loss of that title certainly does nothing for Davis’ legacy, although acting as the presiding judge may well have been more work than it was worth for him.

  18. bearcreekbat 2015-05-25 18:12

    And Lynn, if you are still reading I really would appreciate your personal opinion on the article I linked about the little girl who’s live appears to have been saved by pot. I suspect you may well have a great deal of empathy for her.

  19. Douglas Wiken 2015-05-25 20:21

    A year or two ago, we were at the Register of Deeds office in Rapid City. We had to put all our change, tools, phones, etc into a box and walk through a metal detector to get in.

    We groused a bit about that to the women at the Register of Deeds office. She said nobody in her office wanted it, but the gods above on the third floor wanted it…lawyers and judges. She said it in a much more clever way than I can remember here however. Not often that one finds much humor in county courthouses. Lots of self-importance and vanity however.

  20. Les 2015-05-25 22:01

    That is not unusual for many reasons, Doug. I’ve found myself in the courtroom with no metal detection where the bailif reads what is and isn’t allowed and my daily carry pocket knife starts to feel like a .357 mag. Good reasons for courtroom security that should overshadow our importance.

    Is it possible a few parents of those children could be driven to violence?

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