By Dan Bechtold, Editor
When she was attending high school in Winner Bobbi (Benson) Rank never dreamed that one day she would be serving as a circuit judge in her hometown.
The dream of a young, hard working lawyer has come true. Rank, daughter of Bob and Judy Benson of Winner, replaced Judge Kathleen Trandahl when she retired. Rank said when she learned that Trandahl was retiring she decided to apply for the job. The lawyer has several years of experience as both a prosecutor and a defense lawyer and felt she was up to the challenge to serve as judge.
“I had thought about it for a few years. I thought if the right opportunity would come up I would apply. I did not expect the opportunity to come up in my hometown,” she said.
There is a long application process followed by a qualifications committee that interviews the candidate and then an interview with the governor. Rank remembers what she was doing when she got the call from governor who offered the position to her. Rank was working for the state Department of Education and was talking to her boss about 7:30 a.m. She went downstairs and noticed she had a message on her phone to call Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
“I made the call and he offered me the job,” she said.
As a judge in the Sixth Judicial Circuit she serves Gregory, Tripp/Todd and Bennett Counties.
Rank is enjoying her new role as a judge. She noted everyone has been so welcoming. “All the co workers are top notch. I feel so lucky to have been given this opportunity,” said Rank. She has not yet had a jury trial but has had a lot of criminal cases including drug cases come before her in the courtroom.
Prior to applying to be a judge, Rank did a lot of background work. She talked to seven or eight judges and asked them what is the most important thing a judge needs to know and what are the most important traits a judge need to possess.
Rank graduated from Winner High School in 1991. Following high school, she went to the University of South Dakota where she received a degree in English and criminal justice. She noted it was about her third year of undergrad school that she entertained the idea of becoming a lawyer. Following graduation from USD, Rank worked for a year at the Cendant call center that was in Winner.
In 1996, she started law school at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. She received her law degree in 1999.
After her first year of law school, she worked as a clerk for the late Stan Whiting in Winner. The other two years of law school she worked as a clerk for a Lincoln law firm.
When she graduated from law school, she was offered the position as a clerk in the Sixth Judicial Circuit. The same day she was offered a job at the law Lincoln law firm where she had been a clerk.
“I called Stan Whiting and asked him what I should do. Stan told me these are good problems to have.”
Rank took the one year position as a clerk in the Sixth Judicial Circuit. After the year work, she went to work for the Pierre law firm of May, Adams, Gerdes and Thompson for three years. For this firm, she did a lot of criminal defense work.
“It was good experience and I got exposed to everything,” she said.
From the Pierre law firm, Rank went to work for the state attorney general’s office for eight years. She worked for attorney generals Larry Long and Marty Jackley. Rank defended the state in a lot of civil actions. Rank was one of the lawyers in the school funding case.
In 2011, she started working for the Department of Education as their in-house lawyer. Rank represented the Department of Education when they were sued and she also served as a lobbyist for the education department.
When asked what kind of judge she will be, Rank said she will be fair and prepared.
Like Trandahl, Rank says she is a firm believer that the judge who served Winner must live in Winner.
Rank likes the rural practice program which brings young lawyers to a rural community. Winner has two lawyers who are taking part in the rural practice program. “One of my goals is to do everything I can to support this program,” she said.
The judge also likes the HOPE program which is great for people with addition to drugs.
Rank and her husband, Scott, have been married for 15 years. They have two children: Cole who will be in the 6th grade next year and Shannon who is 8 years old and in the second grade. The children are still attending school in Pierre until the end of this school year and then the family will move to Winner. “I want them to get involved in baseball, softball and meet kids over the summer,” she said. Scott Rank is a barber.
“I am just so excited to be here and really enjoy the position. I hope when I look back at the end of my career I can say I have done as much and changed as many lives as Judge Trandahl did.”
For Rank, her years as a lawyer have prepared her to be a judge. Rank explained that a judge told her one of the biggest adjustments she has to make as a judge is that “you are not the blue team or the red team any more, you are the umpire. “As a lawyer you are always an advocate for your client. You have to get out of that mind set. You are there to call the balls and strikes.” Rank can relate to this as her family is such a big supporter of local and amateur baseball. Rank says the “umpire” part of it has been a difficult transition since it is such a new experience.