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Court considers judicial district change

By Staff | Jun 21, 2013

Submitted art North Dakota currently has seven judicial districts. New proposals would add an eighth and split Pierce County’s current district along the county line shared with McHenry County.

The North Dakota Supreme Court is considering a realignment of the state’s judicial districts in an effort to reach more uniformity in judicial workload and population among the districts.

The proposed changes would split Pierce County’s Northeast District, which currently also includes McHenry, Bottineau and Renville counties to the west.

Pierce County would stay in the Northeast, but Bottineau, McHenry and Renville would shift into the Northwest Central district, which would include Ward, Montail and Burke counties.

District Judge John McClintock, whose chambers are in Rugby, is against the proposal, which he said attempts to “fix something that isn’t broken.”

Pierce County State’s Attorney Galen Mack is also against the realignment, saying it would take services away from rural areas and break up a stable and efficient historical district.

Submitted art Pictured is one of the proposals for new judicial districts in North Dakota being considered by the Supreme Court.

According to McClintock, there were five different proposals forwarded by the judicial planning committee and at least two others being considered that added later.

Part of the plan is to turn the northwest district, which has been busier with the influx of oil activity and population, into two different districts. McHenry, Bottineau and Renville counties would be added to one of those two districts. The state legislature voted to add two more judges to the district to handle the increased caseload.

“The planning committee has recommended that they move into the northwest with the idea that the northwest would split into two districts,” McClintock said. “I’m very much against this. I think the NE judicial district is a fine district. Ever since judicial unification was adopted in 1995, our district as been pretty lean and mean and running efficiently.”

McClintock said judges in Minot have submitted a letter to the state Supreme Court saying they aren’t interested in adding the new counties.

Currently, the caseload in Pierce, Bottineau, Renville, McHenry and Rolette counties are split up between McClintock and District Judge Michael Sturdevant, whose chambers is in Bottineau.

“The relationship is very good between the counties,” McClintock said. “We have very multi-county associations. To break that up doesn’t make any sense.”

Mack said that the changes would separate those traditional ties.

“The Northeast Judicial District in particular is a more rural district,” Mack said. “We’ve aligned ourselves into almost sub-districts. Judge John (McClintock) will take 2 or 2 1/2 rural counties and Judge Sturdavent will take 2 or 2 1/2. The realignment would bust those up. It would send two communities (Rugby and Towner) that are less than 20 miles apart in two different directions. In the northern part of the state, it would take Rolla and Bottineau and send them in two different districts. I don’t think that makes sense for our district.”

Both Mack and McClintock are concerned about the possible abolishment of the 70/30 rule, established during the judicial unification of counties and districts.

The Supreme Court is considering recommending that change, but it would need to be passed by the state legislature.

Under the rule, 30 percent of the state’s judges have to be in rural districts and located in towns with populations of less than 10,000 people.

“You’re taking a branch of the government and moving it farther away from the people, geographically,” Mack said. “That’s not right. You have to keep government in the grassroots level.”

McClintock said the agreement was a big part of what made unification palatable for those in rural areas.

“We wanted that passed so we could have some comfort that we would have services in rural areas,” he said.

Comments on the proposed changes are due to the Supreme Court by June 27 and can be submitted to Penny Miller, clerk of the Supreme Court, at supclerkofcourt@ndcourts.gov.

The proposed changes can be viewed at www.ndcourts.gov/Court/Notices/20130153/petition.pdf

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