Order more judicial robesWestern North Dakota needs more judges.
By: The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
Western North Dakota needs more judges.
The rapid population growth in the oil patch, along with a parallel explosion in criminal and civil court actions, justifies additional judicial attention. While there may be other areas of the state where the court’s workload has increased, the priority should be in western North Dakota.
A study by the National Center for State Courts indicates that three to six more judges are needed in North Dakota, two of which should be in the center of the state’s oil production. The study then suggests placing two new judges in Fargo and one each in Bismarck and Dickinson.
In the 1990s, as economic and court activities fell off, the number of judges was reduced from 53 to 42. Two years ago, judges were added, one each in Minot and Jamestown. In other words, the state courts have matched the number of judges on the bench to the apparent need. The process of building and approving the state’s two-year budget may put the court system at a temporary disadvantage, but it’s a process that has worked reasonably well.
Too often our government — local, state and federal — becomes self-perpetuating. Agencies and officials rarely downsize when a job is done or a program reaches completion. This shifting in the number of court personnel, judges and their support is an exception to the bureaucratic tendency.
North Dakota has seen a tremendous boost in economic activity directly and indirectly related to oil exploration and production. It’s felt statewide, and it’s not a surprise the study suggested a need for judges beyond the oil patch. But given the uncertainty and turmoil in the oil patch, as well as the civil and criminal conflicts inherent in a boom, it’s the area that most needs more court time.
The Legislature, in its regular and special 2011 session, increased the number of Highway Patrol troopers working in western North Dakota. It was done in response to need, and one of the consequences of that action is increased work for judges. Putting more judges in the west helps avoid backlogs of case work; after all, justice should be timely if not swift.
North Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle has said he will make a request for additional judgeships. However, he has not determined the exact number.
There’s at least one other report forthcoming on the status of law enforcement and the courts in western North Dakota. VandeWalle and lawmakers should have plenty of information to help them decide the right number of judges to add to the system.