PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Steven Zinter, who overcame a paralyzing diving accident to rise to the state’s highest court, died Tuesday of complications from routine surgery, a court spokesman said. Zinter was 68.
Zinter, who served 16 years on the Supreme Court, died at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, state Supreme Court spokesman Greg Sattizahn told The Associated Press.
Zinter became a quadriplegic after a swimming pool accident and used a motorized wheelchair. Then-Republican Gov. Bill Janklow appointed Zinter the 45th justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court in 2002.
“Justice Zinter was a towering figure in South Dakota law and a consummate public servant. He overcame his disability to reach the pinnacle of his profession and he was a role model and inspiration to many,” Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in a statement. Daugaard ordered flags across South Dakota to fly at half-staff until Zinter’s burial.
Chief Justice David Gilbertson, friends with Zinter since their first day in law school, said in a statement his friend and colleague “was a giant in South Dakota’s legal community and judiciary and possessed a positive personality the likes of which I have never seen.”
“He always wanted to get every case right, and he would not quit until he was satisfied he was done to the best of his ability,” Gilbertson told the AP in a phone interview.
Gilbertson said Zinter was “healthy right up to the end” and was reading emergency appeals in a South Dakota execution that took place Monday night.
Zinter received his law degree from the University of South Dakota Law School in 1975. Before being named to the five-member Supreme Court, Zinter served as a judge in the 6th Judicial Circuit from 1987 to 2002, including five years as presiding judge, and was Hughes County State’s Attorney from 1980-86. He won retention to the Supreme Court in 2006 and 2014, and had four years remaining in an eight-year term.
Zinter said he was humbled to be selected when Janklow surprised him with the appointment in 2002.
“I think I can do a good job carrying on the honor and tradition of the court,” Zinter said then. “I look forward to the challenges and responsibility.”
Former South Dakota Attorney General Mark Barnett, now a circuit court judge who served with Zinter on the bench and was his law partner in the 1980s, recalled his friend as “an incredibly bright jurist” who never gave up.
“He came back from a catastrophic physical injury, and you will not find anyone who ever heard him complain, ever,” Barnett said.
A judicial qualifications commission will receive applications for Zinter’s vacant seat and recommend at least two candidates to the governor, Sattizahn said. Since Daugaard cannot run again because of term limits, the appointment likely will fall to the new governor who takes office in January. Three years after the appointment, South Dakota voters would decide whether to retain the replacement justice for another eight years.
Zinter, who lived in Pierre, is survived by his wife, Sandy, two daughters and five grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
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