AG candidate speaks at GOP luncheon


HURON — As South Dakota’s next attorney general, Lance Russell said he would work to untie the hands of judges so they can send more violent criminals to prison where they can be treated for what is typically their addiction to methamphetamine.
Russell, a former Fall River state’s attorney now serving in the state Senate, said rather than going to the penitentiary those convicted of possession of methamphetamine are often sentenced to a mandatory maximum term of one year in the county jail where they are essentially being warehoused.
As a member of the state House, he opposed Senate Bill 70, the governor’s criminal justice reform bill.
“I have seen where the policy side can tie the hands of the local law enforcement to the degree that they don’t have the ability to do their job,” Russell said at the Beadle County Republican Women luncheon on Monday.
He is one of four candidates seeking the GOP nomination for attorney general in the June primary.
When he opposed SB70 he was in the vast minority, he said.
“I was most concerned about a spike in violent crime and, unfortunately, as I look back I was more correct than I was wrong,” Russell said.
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he said he agreed with Attorney General Marty Jackley’s request to bring legislation to Pierre to increase prison sentences for drug pushers, something Jackley announced last week.
Legislators open the 2018 session today with Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s final State of the State address.
An Edgemont native, Russell followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both lawyers who went on to be judges.
Before he attended law school, he worked for the South Dakota Republican Party in Rapid City. At the request of the late Gov. Bill Janklow, Russell served as executive director of the state GOP.
In 2000, after graduating from the University of South Dakota School of Law, Russell was elected to the first of two terms as Fall River County state’s attorney. He also served in that role in Shannon County.
He served two terms in the House before his election to the Senate in 2016.
Rapid City has seen a significant increase in the number of murders, and since 2009 cases of aggravated assault have doubled in the state, he said.
When he was state’s attorney, a judge from Rapid City who was on the bench in Fall River County in a rotating program sent more than 60 people to prison in the year she was there.
“After that, the number of arrests went down by a third,” Russell said. “It was quite something how criminals in my community responded to a strong judge and strong situation where we were sending a message, because for too long before, you might have three or four felonies before you ended up going to Sioux Falls.”
In his last two years as state’s attorney, the number of arrests was cut by one third, he said.
That meant a significant reduction in the cost of court-appointed attorneys, he said.
Now, in the last few years, aggravated assaults — in which someone ends up in the hospital or a gun is involved — have doubled.
The only way to get a handle on violent crime in the state is to bring legislation to correct what was done with SB 70, he said.
Sending people to prison means they will have a chance to get treatment for their drug addiction, Russell said.
“We do not have enough treatment while you’re in the correctional facilities in South Dakota,” he said.
Legislation proposed by Jackley is a piece-meal approach that Russell said he is concerned about, but there are also worries that a broader bill could draw a veto from the governor.
Meanwhile, Russell said he also supports more transparency and openness in government agencies.
The first time he said he heard about the EB-5 situation was when he read about it in the newspaper.
“I had no idea that any of that was going on and I was a member of the state Legislature,” he said.

Photo:

Lance Russell, GOP candidate for attorney general in the June primary, addressed the Beadle County Republican Women luncheon Monday in Huron. Looking on are, Tom Hansen, center, and Rep. Bob Glanzer, R-Huron.

Photo by Roger Larsen/Plainsman

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