By Dan Bechtold, Editor
Kathleen Trandahl has been a compassionate and firm judge who has served the Sixth Judicial Circuit for 22 ½ years. She recently retired and her last official duty was sentencing Russell Bertram who had been found guilty of murder by a Gregory County jury. The sentencing was Nov. 22 in Winner.
It has been an interesting journey for the first woman to serve as a judge in the Sixth Circuit. At her retirement party a month ago, Trandahl received praised from judges both in the circuit court and the South Dakota supreme court.
Originally from Madison, she attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls where she received a double major in government and criminal justice.
When she was ready for a job the country was in a recession and there were no jobs for criminal justice majors. It was her father who suggested that she attend law school. “I thought he was crazy. At that time I did not know any women lawyers,” she said. Her senior year in college she had the opportunity to work in Washington, D.C. and took some classes at Georgetown. “Most everyone in my classes were going to law school. I thought if they can go to law school so can I.” Trandahl applied at the University of South Dakota Law School where she was accepted graduating with a law degree in 1985.
She served as a law clerk in Watertown for one year. Then, one day she opened the newsletter lawyers receive and there was an ad placed by Don Covey of Winner looking for a part-time state’s attorney and civil attorney. “That is exactly what I was looking for,” said Trandahl. She and her mother drove to Winner, had lunch at Sargents and an interview with Covey. Trandahl was hired and she worked for Covey for two years.
From 1988 to 1993, Trandahl was a partner with Richard Rahn in Winner. In 1993, Trandahl bought out Rahn and had her own practice was known as Trandahl Law Firm.
There had been a couple of opportunities to to apply for a position as a judge. At the age of 27, her mentor and an attorney in Madison told the Winner woman there was an opening for a judge in Madison. She did not know if she wanted to be a judge in her home town, so she did not apply.
However, a while later the opportunity to apply for a judge opened up again. Judge Don Heck of Kadoka was retiring and served the Winner area as a judge. Across the state, there were three openings for a judge and Trandahl applied for all three.
Trandahl recalls vividly the day she got the call from former governor Walter Dale Miller appointing her as a judge. It was New Year’s Eve and she was attending a funeral at the Methodist Church. Her husband (Mark Trandahl ) called and told her she needed to get home right away because the governor was going to call back at noon. “I went through every stop sign between the church and my home. I took the call and accepted the governor’s kind offer,” she explained.
Trandahl had to shut down her law office so she did not take the oath of office until March 4, 1994. Other judges in the circuit at that time were Patrick McKeever, Steve Zinter, Jim Anderson, Max Gors and Lori Wilbur who was the part-time magistrate judge.
Trandahls’ coverage area was primarily the southern part of the 14 county circuit. She worked in Tripp, Todd, Gregory and Bennett Counties and after 13 years in Bennett County she went to Lyman County for a couple of years.
After six month on the bench, Trandahl went to the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev., for three weeks. “I found that valuable from the standpoint of seeing how other people do things and I learned a lot.”
What she discovered was that in South Dakota we do it the best. “We are very fortunate to have the Unified Judicial System where we are supportive of each other; it is a great system to work under.”
Bertram Receives Life Sentence for Murder
Russell Bertram, 63, Sioux Falls, formerly of Colome, was sentenced to life in prison without parole, in circuit court in Winner on Nov. 22. Circuit Judge Kathleen Trandahl, who presided at Bertram’s Gregory County two-week trial, handed down the sentence.
A Gregory County jury found Bertram guilty of murder which carries a mandatory life sentence. In October 2009, Bertram fired his shotgun fatally killing his fiancé Leonla Stickney, then 26.
When the judge asked Bertram if he had anything to say he said: “I would like to thank you for running a smooth court.” He also wished her well in retirement. He also said he felt the jurors were wrong. Reading a short statement was Melissa del Valle, Stickney’s sister, who Bertram later married.
Judge Trandahl said Bertram has never been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, except for a few traffic offenses, which means he is a first time offender.
Bertram was ordered to pay $104 in court costs and nearly $22,000 in expert witness fees.
Bertram may appeal his sentenced within 30 days
Frontier Motors Wins Parade of Lights
Frontier Motors float won first place in the Winner Area Chamber of Commerce Parade of Lights on Saturday. Second place went to Winner Volunteer Fire Department and third to Winner Regional Healthcare Center.
Prizes for the winners include: 1st–$300; 2nd–$200; 3rd–$100 and people’s choice–$100.
There were 17 entries in the parade.
STIEHL & LOGUE REPRESENT SD AT BASS NATION CHAMPIONSHIP
The BASS Nation Championship was held Nov. 17, 18 and 20 on Lake Conroe in Texas – with 113 anglers participating from 47 states and 9 countries. The anglers were all competing for three coveted spots into the 2017 Geico Bassmaster Classic which will be held March 24-26, 2017 also on Lake Conroe.
Shane Stiehl a member of the Borderline Bassmasters from Winner and Brett Logue a member of the Bon Homme Bass Club from Tyndall qualified last April at the Central Divisional held in Alabama to represent South Dakota at the Championship.