In the Matter of the Vacancy in Judgeship No. 2, with Chambers in Williston, North Dakota, Northwest Judicial District
1] On August 26, 2016, Governor Jack Dalrymple notified the
Supreme Court of the retirement of the Honorable David W.
Nelson, Judge of the District Court, with chambers in
Williston, Northwest Judicial District, effective December
31, 2016. Judge Nelson's retirement creates a vacancy
under Section 27-05-02.1, N.D.C.C.
2] Under Section 27-05-02.1, N.D.C.C., this Court is required
to review vacancies that occur and determine, within 90 days
of receiving notice of a vacancy, whether the office is
necessary for effective judicial administration. This Court
may, consistent with that determination, order a vacancy
filled or order the vacant office transferred to another
judicial district in which an additional judge is necessary,
or abolish a vacant judicial office, with or without a
3] Under N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 7.2, notice of a written
consultation with attorneys and judges and other interested
persons in the Northwest Judicial District was posted
September 2, 2016, on the website of the Supreme Court
regarding the vacancy created by Judge Nelson's
retirement in Judgeship No. 2. Written comments on the
vacancy were permitted through October 3, 2016. This
procedure is sufficient for purposes of the consultation
required under Section 27-05-02.1, N.D.C.C.
4] Comments regarding filling the vacancy were received, and
a report containing population and caseload trends, and other
criteria identified in N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 7.2, Section
4, was filed September 29, 2016, by the Northwest Judicial
District. The State Court Administrator provided weighted
caseload statistics through September 2016 for the Northwest
Judicial District and statewide.
5] In 2015, this Court last reviewed caseload statistics for
the Northwest Judicial District when we considered the
chambering of two new judgeships in the district which were
authorized by the 2015 Legislative Assembly. See
Chambering Four New District Judgeships, 2015 ND 138, 864
N.W.2d 286. The 2013 Legislative Assembly had previously
authorized an additional two judgeships to this district due
to the burgeoning caseload attributed to the oil and gas
boom. See Chambering of Judgeship No. 10 in the
Northwest Judicial District, 2013 ND 82, 831 N.W.2d 367, and
Chambering of Judgeship No. 11 in the Northwest Judicial
District, 2013 ND 86, 831 N.W.2d 717.
6] The Northwest Judicial District is comprised of Divide,
McKenzie and Williams Counties, which has been the heart of
the oil and gas activity for several years. Despite the
recent slow down in this activity, the population in these
counties is projected to increase.
7] According to the district's report, four district
judges chambered in Williston, who are responsible for the
cases originating in Williams County, and two district judges
chambered in Watford City, who are responsible for the cases
originating in McKenzie County, now serve the district. All
six of the judges of the district are responsible for an
equal share of the cases originating in Divide County.
8] In 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, the number of cases filed in
the Northwest Judicial District increased, with a slight
decrease in 2015. It is noted in the district's report,
in 2015 26% of all probate cases filed in North Dakota
originated in the Northwest Judicial District. These tend to
be contested probate cases which are more labor intensive,
due to the extensive mineral rights issues involved.
Additionally, the district notes a continued increase in
juvenile dependency cases which often require more judicial
resources to address.
9] According to the weighted caseload study, based on the
case filings and the availability of six district judges, the
Northwest Judicial District continues to show a shortage in
judicial officer need. Based on an average of 2015 and 2016
case filings, with the 2016 filings annualized through
September 2016, a 1.63 judicial officer shortage is shown.
This is a decrease from a 2.27 shortage shown for the 2014
and 2015 case filings. The decrease in the need for judicial
officers is not significant enough to vacate this judgeship,
as the district continues to address the backlog of cases
caused by unprecedented filings and fewer judges in previous
10] Under the criteria of Section 4 of N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin.
R. 7.2, the Court has considered all submissions received by
the Court and its own administrative records on state-wide
weighted caseload data.
11] Based on the record before us, this Court determines the
district judge is necessary for effective judicial
administration in Williston and the Northwest Judicial
12] IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, that Judgeship No. 2 at Williston
in the Northwest Judicial District be filled in the manner
provided by N.D.C.C. ch. 27-25.
13] Gerald W.VandeWalle, C.J. Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V.
Sandstrom, Carol ...