N.D. chief justice: Judicial report ‘useful tool’BISMARCK — A new report detailing the stress North Dakota’s oil boom is putting on the legal system is a “useful tool” to approach the Legislature for help, Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle said.
By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — A new report detailing the stress North Dakota’s oil boom is putting on the legal system is a “useful tool” to approach the Legislature for help, Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle said.
Western North Dakota, where the population has increased along with oil production, needs at least two more district judges and other court personnel, according to the report. It was produced by the state Bar Association after public meetings in Bismarck, Dickinson, Minot and Williston.
VandeWalle said Monday that court workloads are also increasing outside of western North Dakota’s oil-producing region.
The Supreme Court, which is responsible for administering the state’s system of district trial courts, will be asking lawmakers to approve some additional judgeships, the chief justice said. North Dakota now has 44 district judges.
“North Dakota’s a busy state all the way around,” VandeWalle said. “If you look at Fargo and some of those areas, they are booming also.”
Aside from recommending at least two new judgeships to serve Williams, Mountrail and McKenzie counties, which are leading oil producers in northwestern North Dakota, the Bar Association report suggests hiring four new court clerks in Williams County and additional clerks in Stark, Ward, Morton and Burleigh counties.
It says the association will support developing uniform security standards for county courthouses. The suggestion was prompted in part by a February 2011 incident in the Adams County courthouse in Hettinger, when a man who had just been convicted of molesting a young girl pulled a pistol in the courtroom. He was tackled by a prosecutor and the county sheriff. No one was injured.
The report also says the Legislature should allow the state Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents to hire another full-time attorney. The agency provides lawyers for criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire their own.
Robin Huseby, the agency’s director, said she is including the recommendation in her budget proposal for the 2013 Legislature. The commission has attorneys based in Bismarck, Minot, Dickinson, Williston, Grand Forks and Fargo, and hires private attorneys as needed to handle the workload. The commission now has more than 50 lawyers under contract, Huseby said.
“We’re concerned about the rate at which our caseload is rising. How is this going to be a year from now?” Huseby said. “We are definitely trying to get ahead of this thing ... instead of playing catch-up.”
The report says the association will also support hiring more police, state crime lab personnel, process servers, mental health workers and advocates for domestic violence victims to help western North Dakota.
Bismarck attorney Jack McDonald was chairman of a Bar Association task force that listened to public testimony and compiled the report.
Its recommendations “are all important, because they all kind of mesh together,” McDonald said. “We hope that this would provide some factual information, so that this isn’t just anecdotes and stories. ... This provides a factual basis for people to seek more help.”