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In re Chambering of a New Judgeship in the Northwest Judicial District

July 15, 2009


Per curiam.

[¶1] The 61st Legislative Assembly passed Senate Bill 2121 (2009 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 261), which was signed by the Governor, and became effective July 1, 2009. This legislation provides for an additional district court judge in the Northwest Judicial District. The legislation also provides for the chambers to be assigned by the Supreme Court.

[¶2] N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 7.1 provides the procedure for establishing judgeship chambers within the judicial districts of North Dakota. Notice of an opportunity to provide written comment on the chambering of the new judgeship was posted May 28, 2009, on the website of the Supreme Court. Notice was also given to the boards of county commissioners for Burke, Divide, McKenzie, Mountrail, Ward and Williams counties through their respective county auditors, and Notice was also published once in the official newspaper for each of the affected counties. Written comments on chambering were permitted through July 1, 2009.

[¶3] A Report containing population and caseload trends, and other criteria identified in N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 7.1, Section 4, was filed June 26, 2009, by the Honorable William W. McLees, Presiding Judge, and Carolyn Woolf, Trial Court Administrator, for the Northwest Judicial District, recommending that the chambers of the new judgeship be placed in Minot. Wade G. Enget, as Attorney at Law and as the Mountrail County State's Attorney, filed a petition in support of chambering the new judgeship in Stanley.

[¶4] Section 4 of N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 7.1, provides the criteria for consideration in designating resident district court judgeship chambers. Discussion of the factors follows.

a. Annual district court combined civil, criminal and formal juvenile caseload for the most recent three-year period and any discernible caseload trends or patterns.

[¶5] Our weighted caseload study allocates judicial resources (including judges and judicial referees) needed to handle cases after weighting each type of case by the time required to process an average case of that type. The study also allocates time not available for handling cases but which is required from a judge, such as for travel and for the presiding judge to handle administrative matters. The resulting computation expresses the minimum judicial resources as the judicial Full Time Equivalent ("judicial FTE") required to meet the needs of the district based upon weighted case filings. When minimum judicial FTE's are compared to available judicial FTE's, the difference is expressed as a positive number, indicating there are more judicial resources available than current weighted case filings require, or a negative number, indicating there are fewer judicial resources than are needed to serve those weighted case filings. Ideally a judicial district as a whole would show a small positive number, indicating judicial resources for that district have a margin for contingencies such as the prolonged illness of a judge and similar circumstances not currently accounted for in the weighted caseload study as well as some margin for error in the structure of the study.

[¶6] The Northwest Judicial District continues to have a shortage of judicial resources.

YearWeighted FilingsJudicial FTE RequiredDifference 2006558,3238.42-1.42 2007601,9899.21-2.21 2008626,4279.33-2.70

[¶7]Weighted caseload filings for counties in the Northwest Judicial District are listed in the chart below.

 BurkeDivideMcKenzieMountrailWardWilliams 200610,4269,44128,71430,474335,704143,554 20078,1329,74029,72236,777348,200169,418 200810,62710,91932,63346,837355,513169,898

[¶8]According to the Report, over half of the Northwest Judicial District caseload over the last three years has come from Ward County. The Minot judges presently also handle the Burke County caseload, most of the contested civil cases in Mountrail County, and hear conflict cases throughout the rest of the district. In addition, the presently sitting judges have agreed that if the new judgeship is chambered in Minot, the Minot judges will handle all cases in Mountrail County. This will result in an approximate 12% decrease in caseload for the Williston judges. According to the weighted caseload statistics, Mountrail County has had a significant increase in case filings in 2008; however, 67% of those cases are administrative traffic, which require a reduced level of judicial involvement. The present oil boom has affected all of the western half of the state. In addition, population at the Minot Air Force Base is expected to rise once the expanded missions for the base become a reality.

b. Number and Location of Attorneys

[ΒΆ9]The following distribution of attorneys in the district indicates the continued need for more ...

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