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In re Chambering Four New District Judgeships

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 2, 2015

In the Matter of Chambering Four New District Judgeships

Gerald W. VandeWalle, CJ., Dale V. Sandstrom, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers.

OPINION

PER CURIAM.

[¶1] The 64th Legislative Assembly passed House Bill 1002, which has been signed by the Governor, and will become effective July 1, 2015. This legislation provides for four additional district court judges with the chambers to be assigned by the Supreme Court.

[¶2] N.D. S.Ct. Admin. R. 7.1 provides the procedure for establishing judgeship chambers within the judicial districts of North Dakota. Notice the Court was contemplating the chambering of the new judgeships in the Northwest, South Central or the Southwest Judicial Districts, and providing an opportunity for written comment was posted May 6, 2015, on the Supreme Court website. The Court further specified that information for McKenzie, Williams, Burleigh, Morton and Stark Counties should be discussed in the reports filed on behalf of the respective districts. Written comments on chambering were permitted through May 26, 2015.

[¶3] A number of comments were received, as well as district reports from each of the identified districts containing population and caseload trends, and other criteria identified in N.D. S.Ct. Admin. R. 7.1. Additionally, the Court takes judicial notice of the weighted caseload statistics provided by the State Court Administrator in Matter of the Vacancy in Judgeship No. 4, Northeast Central Judicial District, 2015 ND 89.

[¶4] The need for additional judicial resources continues beyond these four new judgeships. The Court determined, however, that based on population and caseload statistics, the greatest need at this time is in the Northwest, South Central and Southwest Judicial Districts and narrowed the potential chamber locations to Burleigh and Morton Counties in the South Central Judicial District, McKenzie and Williams Counties in the Northwest Judicial District, or Stark County in the Southwest Judicial District. In reviewing the factors outlined in N.D. S.Ct. Admin. R. 7.1, the factors that will be highlighted for the purpose of chambering these four new district judgeships are population distribution, caseload, facilities, and recommendation of the presiding judge of the judicial district, after consultation with the judges of the judicial district.

[¶5] According to the U.S. Census Bureau from 2010 to 2014, the State of North Dakota is estimated to have increased in population 9.9%. The state's economic prosperity over the past years has greatly contributed to the population increase, which has increased the need for additional judicial resources.

Northwest Judicial District

[¶6] The Northwest Judicial District is comprised of Divide, McKenzie and Williams Counties. Watford City is the county seat in McKenzie County and Williston

Page 287

is the county seat in Williams County. For the past years, these counties have been the center of the oil and gas activity in North Dakota, and each of the counties have experienced significant population increases during the last four years as reflected below:

Geographic

Population

Population

Population

Percent

Area

Estimate

Estimate

Change

Change

Base April 1,

July 1, 2014

2010

Divide County

2,071

2,432

361

17.4

McKenzie

6,360

10,996

4,636

72.9

Williams

22,398

32,130

9,732

43.5

County

[¶7] In 2014, the Northwest Judicial District was divided into two districts, the Northwest and the North Central Judicial Districts. The chart below reflects this division back to 2010 to reflect the significant increase in case filings impacting the Northwest Judicial District as the oil and gas activity exploded.

Year

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

NWJD

11,179

14,212

20,593

22,542

23,914

[¶8] The Northwest Judicial District currently has four district judges: three chambered in Williston, and one chambered in Watford City, to handle the heavy caseload, which continues to increase despite recent lower oil prices and a decrease in drilling. A judicial referee located in Minot travels to Williston one day every two weeks to handle all juvenile matters that are not time sensitive. According to the district report, continuous evaluation of calendar systems and procedures has made an impact on the timeliness and quality of caseflow in the Northwest Judicial District. While criminal jury trials are scheduled on a continuous basis in both Williston and Watford City, they may be " stacked" as many as fifty-seven (57) deep during trial weeks in Williston, and as many as thirty (30) deep in Watford City. The judges in the district carry a very high caseload, and, according to the report, if two additional judgeships are chambered in the Northwest Judicial District, the district judges will continue to carry the highest caseload in the state. The two-year average for judicial officer need in the Northwest Judicial District, which is based on the weighted caseload statistics as provided by the State Court Administrator, is reflected in the chart below. Only the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 averages reflect the division of the Northwest Judicial District into two districts. Parentheses indicate a shortage.

2-yr.

2009-

2010-

2011-

2012-

2013-

NWJD

(3.17)

(2.35)

(3.60)

(2.56)

(3.88)


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