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J.A.I.L.’s California shell game – Chapter 1

In addition to the J.A.I.L. Lies series, I’ve decided to embark on an additional one, both of which will run intermittently through the November election. How many parts each series will have depends on the backers of South Dakota’s Judicial Accountability Initiative Law (J.A.I.L.). We’ll call this one the “California shell game.”

The title refers to both the California influence on J.A.I.L. and the efforts of local J.A.I.L.ers to play a shell game to hide those connections and other issues. As is usually the case, it is best to begin at the beginning.

Even Bill Stegmeier, South Dakota’s J.A.I.L.er-in-Chief, admitted at the outset that the initiative came from Ron Branson’s Jail4Judges organization. Did Stegmeier see a problem in South Dakota and go looking for a solution? No, he was recruited by J.A.I.L., which “targeted the State of South Dakota” as the first place to try and put the initiative on the ballot.

It didn’t take long for the shell game to begin, though. For example, in October 2005, the “South Dakota Judicial Accountability Committee” appeared to have three officers or members: Stegmeier; Attorney Gary Zerman, “the official spokesperson” for the committee and with a phone number of 605-231-1258; and, Branson, listed as the founder of the national organization and with a phone number of 605-231-1358.

It’s rather interesting the committee told people Zerman and Branson had South Dakota telephone numbers. Branson lives in North Hollywood, Calif. Zerman is a California attorney, “Legal Counsel” for Jail4Judges, and essentially a co-founder of the movement. Why would the committee indicate Zerman and Branson had South Dakota telephone numbers unless the intent was to lead people to believe they were South Dakotans, in South Dakota, or this was a South Dakota effort?

Once some of Branson’s more extreme views became more generally known (views which, by the way, apparently coincide in large part with Stegmeier’s own), Stegmeier tried to back away from his California buddies. But even that effort continues to reflect J.A.I.L.’s shell game.

Although the FAQ on the South Dakota J.A.I.L.ers’ new website announces that J.A.I.L. is “South Dakota all the way,” the California ties remain. The new J.A.I.L. publicist is also a Californian who is waging her own war on the court system. The California publicist apparently writes what appears on the web site. The domain name is not registered in the name of the South Dakota J.A.I.L. organization and, in fact, was designed by a California firm, not any of the firms qualified to do so in South Dakota. Perhaps the fact both the web page and the publicist have to come from California is another example of how deep-rooted this movement is in South Dakota.

Stegmeier also now claims Branson only provided the “template” for the amendment on the South Dakota ballot. In point of fact, the measure was dictated by Branson. In a May 26, 2005, e-mail to Stegmeier and Zerman titled “New and final version of the South Dakota Initiative,” Branson wrote:

Bill and Gary, here is our work in its final form ready to be filed. FINALLY! It is best to use the attachment version because it has all the proper print size & style. (Use the below pasted only for verbiage.)

Thus, Branson did not prepare a “template” Stegmeier or someone else used to draft the amendment. Branson wrote it. Minor changes were made from the “New and final version” only after an exchange of letters with the Legislative Research Council.

So how is it that J.A.I.L. is “South Dakota all the way”? Only by J.A.I.L.ers continually playing a shell game with South Dakotans. And just like a shell game or three card monte, if you get suckered in, you lose. The next installment looks at the shell game J.A.I.L. plays with the issues.


A leopard does not change his spots.

Ivy Compton-Burnett, More Women Than Men

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