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Judges Take Action Over Voice Mail Message

Two South Dakota judges have removed themselves from all cases involving a Yankton lawyer over a voice mail that asks why can't those judges be dead? 

The judges say they've identified the voice in the message as that of former Yankton County States Attorney Robert Chavis. The message was left on the First Circuit Court office voice mail on September 18th, in response to the death of Judge Lee Anderson. 

The caller makes references to judges Arthur Rusch and Glen Eng. According to a document filed by First Circuit Court Administration, the caller asked why can't the two judges fall over dead? 

The voice mail ends with the caller asking "why doesn't Rusch fall over dead." Judge Arthur Rusch tells KELOLAND News "the nature of the phone conversation speaks for itself." 

Rusch and fellow First Circuit Court Judge Glen Eng say they've positively identified the caller as Yankton lawyer Robert Chavis and recused themselves from all future cases involving Chavis. It's not unusual for judges to remove themselves from cases because of their past professional ties with certain lawyers. But refusing to hear cases because of a lawyer's voice mail message is unusual. South Dakota Bar Association Executive Director Tom Barnett said, "I don't know the facts, but based on what you've told me, yeah, it's the first time I've ever heard something like that." 

Chavis lost his re-election bid for states attorney in 2004. He's now in private practice in Yankton. His law firm says Chavis is out of the office until Monday. 

There's no word yet on whether Chavis will be punished for the voice mail. A complaint would have to be filed with a state bar disciplinary board to launch an investigation.


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