The Good Ol’ Days: You Be the Judge
Like my father, Al, I grew up around politics, politicians, farmers and businessmen. His father, Fingar (F.T.) Gronvold, had come from Norway at age 18 in 1887, and like many of his peers he became a farmer/businessman, active in the community. He was elected to the North Dakota House in 1898 and later to the state Senate, where he served continually until his death in 1941. My dad, as a little boy, accompanied his father to Bismarck and got to explore the old Capitol Building and sit with his dad on the Senate floor.
My father was elected to the N.D. Senate in a special election in 1952 to fill the unexpired term of a deceased senator from Pierce County, and he served in the 33rd Session (January 6 to March 6, 1953). He became friends with a fellow freshman senator from McClusky named John E. Davis.
When Dad’s eldest brother, Aaron, died following the Jacobson’s Department Store fire in March 1954, Dad decided not to run for re-election the following November.
In 1956, Davis ran for governor. My dad was a big supporter of and campaigned for Davis, who was elected that year and re-elected in 1958. Governor Davis offered Dad the post of Highway Commissioner, but Dad respectfully decline the offer, which would have required our moving to Bismarck.
Dad was elected back to the Senate in November 1958 to a full four-year term (two 60-day sessions from January to March in 1959 and 1961).
The November election of 1960 brought changes nationally and statewide. John F. Kennedy, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, narrowly defeated Republican Vice President Richard Nixon for the presidency. Fellow Democrat William L. Guy narrowly defeated Republican Lt. Governor C.P. Dahl for the governorship. A Rugby attorney, Roland Heringer, was elected as judge of the Second Judicial District, filling the vacancy of the Hon. Asmunder Benson, who was retiring.
In November 1960, Davis was in his final months as governor. He had lost a June special election to U.S. Representative Quentin Burdick to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy created by the death of the legendary William Langer. Then, just weeks before he was to assume the Second District judgeship, Heringer died unexpectedly of a heart attack, leaving a wife and four children, the youngest not yet five years old.
A few weeks later, in late December, 1960, Dad invited me to accompany him and local States’ Attorney Raymond R. Friederich on a drive to Bismarck. I wasn’t told the reason for the trip, except that I had to wear a suit and sit quietly in the back seat. I recall that Mr. Friederich was well-dressed, with topcoat, hat and calfskin gloves. It was dusk when we departed at about 4 p.m. and we drove most of the way in darkness. When we arrived at the Capitol building, its parking lot was almost empty, it being the Christmas holiday break. I was a 12-year-old seventh-grader.
We walked through the Capitol’s darkened quiet lobby and were ushered into Governor Davis’s office. He had about two more days remaining in his term, and a duck doesn’t get much lamer than that. We went into the conference room next to his office where the governor meets with his cabinet. It had a long oak table surrounded by comfortable light brown leather armchairs with matching armless chairs lining one wall. There was the usual scent of spent cigars in the air, like a foul French fragrance. “Eau de Politics”, as it were.
My dad told me to sit by the wall, adding “don’t say a word.” One by one, Governor Davis’s cabinet members arrived and took their seats around the table. One of them, the red-faced, white-haired Attorney General Leslie R. Burgum saw me sitting quietly in the corner and expansively said, “Come on, Billy, come sit here at the table with us.” “Oh, no, Dad said I’m supposed to sit here and just observe,” I gulped. “Well,” Burgum replied with a sigh, “you probably know more about this than we do.”
The attorney general was referring to a delicate decision that was being made that night by the governor and his cabinet. Because Heringer had died shortly after being elected, the governor was going to appoint Mr. Friederich to be judge of the Second Judicial District. These were apparently uncharted waters. There was a telephone speaker device on the conference table, which was AT&T’s latest model and the first I’d ever seen in use.
Governor Davis asked his secretary to call a N.D. Supreme Court justice, whose voice came on the speaker for all to hear. The conversation was rather perfunctory, with the governor briefly stating for the record that he intended to appoint Friederich to the judgeship of the Second Judicial District. Governor Davis then asked if such a move was permitted by the N.D. Constitution. The justice replied, “In my opinion, it is constitutional,” or words to that effect.
And that was that. Judge Friederich was officially appointed and served until his death in 1979. He was one of the nicest men I’ve ever met.
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