The Burleigh County Courthouse is located in downtown Bismarck on Thayer Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets.

North Dakota's Judicial Nominating Committee will soon meet to select finalists for a new judge for the judicial district that covers Burleigh and Morton counties.

State lawmakers budgeted for the new judgeship and a court reporter during their 2019 session. Only one person has applied so far: South Central District Magistrate Pamela Nesvig, according to Tony Weiler, the committee's secretary and executive director of the State Bar Association of North Dakota. He expects other candidates to apply before the Friday deadline, given the July 4 holiday.

The six-member nominating panel will meet July 30 in Bismarck to interview candidates and likely select up to seven finalists for Gov. Doug Burgum to consider, according to chairman John Olson. North Dakota-licensed attorneys also will be able to comment on the candidates through a survey, he said.

South Central Judicial District Trial Court Administrator Donna Wunderlich expects the new judge to be seated by September.

The Judicial Nominating Committee has shepherded a rush of appointments in recent years: 23 district judges and two North Dakota Supreme Court justices since 2013.

Weiler and State Court Administrator Sally Holewa agreed that surge is likely due to turnover in a generation of judges and the Legislature's creation of new seats to meet rising caseloads in the Bakken oil boom years. 

With the new judgeship for the South Central Judicial District, which is North Dakota's busiest, the state will have 52 judges serving eight judicial districts. The South Central district has nine judges who serve Burleigh, Emmons, Grant, McLean, Mercer, Morton, Oliver, Sheridan and Sioux counties. The new judge will have to run for election to a full six-year term in 2022.

Holewa said she was a bit surprised but pleased to see lawmakers approve the new seat. Data from a weighted caseload study likely helped, she added. Requests for new judgeships will "probably" come in future sessions if further caseload studies pinpoint immediate needs, Holewa said.

Weiler said the Legislature typically scrutinizes all new positions, but the court caseload studies make a "compelling argument."

Holewa also expects the appointment rush to continue as longtime judges of the baby boomer age retire. 

"I think we're going to continue to see this churning for at least another few years," she said. 

Lawmakers also included intent in the judicial budget bill for the judiciary to consider relocating existing judgeships before asking for new seats. Holewa said the Supreme Court already automatically reviews judgeships upon vacancies, so the lawmakers' request isn't for anything new. 

But the judiciary will do an internal study of its court reporters and recorders and their duties. Lawmakers questioned the necessity of adding a court reporter with a new judgeship when deliberating the new positions.

Court reporters and recorders capture the courtroom record and perform secretarial work such as as scheduling and typing judges' orders and jury instructions. 

"We'll be looking at all of that," Holewa said. 

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.


Capitol Reporter