Read more about Judge Roger Wollman’s Story of Excellence here.
A giant of South Dakota’s legal community announced Friday that he intends to step down as an active judge on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judge Roger L. Wollman notified President Trump that he will assume senior status as soon as the U.S. Senate can confirm a successor, but not later than Dec. 31. Wollman, who will turn 84 this year, is the longest-serving judge of the 11 active judges on the circuit.
Trump has already appointed three judges to the 11-judge circuit, and Wollman’s successor would be the fourth of Trump’s brief presidency. In comparison, just one of President Obama’s nominees is on the court, Judge Jane Kelly, the circuit’s only woman on active status.
The Eighth Circuit is one of 12 federal appeals courts. They are one step away from the nation’s highest court of the land, the U.S. Supreme Court. The Eighth Circuit includes the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Arkansas. Its main courthouse is in St. Louis.
Wollman’s announcement indicated that he “intends to render substantial judicial service as a senior circuit judge,” which means he will continue to hear selected cases. The announcement said he was unavailable for interviews.
“Judge Wollman is a life-long South Dakotan, a highly respected and commonsense judge, and a credit to the judiciary,” Sen. John Thune said. “I congratulate him on a long and distinguished career.”
“I thank Judge Wollman for his service to our state and his lifetime commitment to our legal system,” Sen. Mike Rounds said in a statement.
Wollman had been on the South Dakota Supreme Court for 15 years when he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Eighth Circuit. He took his seat in 1985. At the time, he was the first South Dakota judge on the court in 25 years.
For some reason, South Dakota had lost its appointment to the court, said former Sen. Larry Pressler. At the time, South Dakota was the only state in the country without an appeals court judge.
Pressler, who at the time was the state’s senior senator, used his connections with the White House to secure a 10th seat on the court. He then forwarded Wollman’s name to be selected for the new seat.
“That’s one of the best things I did as a senator,” Pressler said.
Reagan wanted conservative judges who would decide cases based on a strict reading of law. Pressler felt Wollman was a perfect fit, and in more than 30 years on the bench, Pressler said he wasn’t let down.
“He’s been considered one of the best,” he said.
Wollman’s brother, Harvey, was the last Democrat to serve as governor of South Dakota.
Michael Henderson, who clerked for Wollman in 1997 and 1998, said the judge is soft spoken and not someone who wants to be in the limelight.
“He was great to work with,” Henderson said.
“He goes about his work and does it really well,” he added. “He’s one of the top legal minds the state has ever produced.”
Wollman grew up in a Mennonite family, which farmed in Frankfort, S.D. He entered the University of South Dakota School of Law in 1959. After a clerkship with a U.S. district judge and a year of graduate studies at Harvard Law, Wollman started a private practice in Aberdeen.
He worked as the Brown County state’s attorney before his 1970 appointment to the state Supreme Court.