Flandreau lawyer J. Unger earns Supreme Court reversal

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Flandreau lawyer Jason Unger won a South Dakota Supreme Court appeal recently overturning a requirement that a Flandreau teenager must testify in Minnesota against a person in an assault case.

Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that the girl must be given a new opportunity to tell a local judge why that would be a burden for her.

“From a legal standpoint, it was really interesting. It deals with legal issues that almost never come up,” Unger said.

In the case brought on behalf of M.M.W. and William Wilkie, Unger represented the minor child and her guardian. The case was Unger’s first before the Supreme Court. It was presented in written briefs.

Because the criminal case in which the two were witnesses originated in Minnesota, the prosecutor there had to work through Moody County States Attorney Paul Lewis because Minnesota no longer had jurisdiction over her, Unger said. Lewis issued a subpoena for the Minnesota trial, but a witness can contest that request, Unger said.

Wilkie presented evidence from a counselor showing it would be a burden for the child, and the trip also would be a burden for him.

“She had been going through some really tough stuff emotionally and psychologically,” Unger said.

Despite that evidence and lack of evidence to the contrary, Judge Patrick Pardy ruled on May 8, 2017, that both of the people named in the subpoena must go to Minnesota to testify. With the trial scheduled shortly thereafter, Wilkie sought Unger’s help, and he filed an appeal of that decision a week later.

The Supreme Court said in last week’s ruling that Wilkie is required to appear as a witness in the Minnesota court. Pardy will rehear the child’s concerns.

Unger, a 2011 graduate of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, has been practicing in Flandreau since 2012.