Mark Meierhenry, former South Dakota attorney general and well-regarded trial lawyer who also authored children’s books, died Wednesday, July 29, at his home in Sioux Falls.
He was 75.
Diagnosed five years ago with fibrosis in his lungs, Meierhenry was in hospice care at his home, according to his obituary.
On Friday, Gov. Kristi Noem ordered that flags at the Capitol be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sundown on Wednesday, Aug. 5, in honor of Meierhenry.
In 1978, Meierhenry was elected state attorney general, succeeding his law school classmate and friend Bill Janklow, who was elected governor.
They served two terms together, 1979-1987 as a Republican team. Then Meierhenry went into private law practice. Janklow ran again in 1994 and served eight more years as governor.
As the state’s lead attorney and in private practice and in life, generally, Meierhenry tried to help those without a lot, said South Dakota Chief Justice David Gilbertson, who was a law student of Meierhenry at the University of South Dakota.
“He came from a pretty humble background himself and he never lost that,” Gilbertson told the Capital Journal on Friday. “He was out for the little guy. He thought every person should be treated the same and should get a fair shake, in life and in the courts.”
Gilbertson was in Meierhenry’s law class on Indian jurisdiction, an area of expertise for Meierhenry in a state with nine Sioux reservations, each with sovereign tribal governments.
“He argued several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, which very few South Dakota attorneys ever get a chance to do.”
Gilbertson served on the state supreme court with Meierhenry’s wife, Judith, who was the first female justice on the state’s top court.
“They both grew up in Gregory and went to USD together,” Gilbertson said. “Then, I think Judith went to work and he went to law school. After Mark got his law degree, she went back to Vermillion go to law school. So, they kind of helped each other through law school.”
Meierhenry became a trial attorney who was admired as “a lawyer’s lawyer,” known for his skill in court rooms persuading juries and judges, Gilbertson said.
“He was a great storyteller. In a lawsuit, he was trying to tell a story, the true story, to the jury and to the judge, of what happened. He did not use a lot of big words. He was a great communicator. He could read a telephone book and make it sound exciting.”
Meierhenry never retired from his work as an attorney, although he focused time in his latter years on writing books for children.
He is survived by his wife, Judith, their two children and several grandchildren.
“He never lost his roots,” Gilbertson said. “He and his wife maintained a farm out by Gregory near where his wife was raised. That was their Shangri-La. Even though he lived in Sioux Falls, at heart he was still a farm kid.”
Meierhenry’s full obituary can be seen on page A7.