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Letter to the editor: Take time to remember Cytella Rittgers

With the recent appointment and investiture of the honorable Cheri Clark as Southeast District Court judge, I thought it would be appropriate to acquaint readers with Cytella Rittgers, the first female judge to preside in Jamestown. Rittgers served during a time when few women were in the courtroom and almost none on the bench.

Prior to 1994 the North Dakota judicial branch consisted of district judges, who had general jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases throughout a geographical district established by the North Dakota Supreme Court, and county judges, who had jurisdiction over misdemeanor crimes, probate, small claims court and traffic violations in their home county. Rittgers became Stutsman County judge in 1970 under unusual circumstances.

Rittgers was born Cytella Dahn on Oct. 3, 1900, in Wisconsin but came with her parents to Bloom Township when she was 9 years old. She attended Jamestown parochial schools and graduated from a local business college. She worked as a legal secretary in Jamestown before leaving for law school in Minneapolis. She graduated from the Minnesota School of Law and was admitted to the State Bar Association of North Dakota as an attorney in 1934. She returned to Jamestown, and served as clerk of county court for three years. After marrying attorney Harry Rittgers in 1937, they formed the Rittgers, Rittgers, and Hjellum law firm. Later, she also served as a court reporter and was active in the State Bar Association.

On Feb. 14, 1970, The Jamestown Sun reported “possible irregularities in the handling of public funds” by county Judge T. E. George. According to The Sun, a later audit revealed “certain sums between 1965 and 1969 were not deposited in the county treasury by Judge George.” George resigned from office, and on March 6, 1970, county commissioners appointed Rittgers to fill out the remainder of his term. No doubt it was her vast legal experience, her reliability and integrity and her familiarity with all aspects of the court system, which led to her appointment. Stutsman County voters elected her to a four-year term as county judge in November of that same year.

Rittgers died May 17, 1978, and is buried in Jamestown. It is important to remember this pioneering woman.