The North Dakota Legislature approved funding for two new judgeships for the six-county Northwest Judicial District. The judges, who have not yet been selected, are expected to be chambered by Sept. 1, raising the total number of district judges to nine.
One judge will be chambered in Williston in Williams County, joining district judges David Nelson and Joshua Rustad. The other judge is most likely to be chambered in either Stanley in Mountrail County or in Watford City in McKenzie County, according to Carolyn Probst, the trial court administrator for the district.
Judges are currently chambered only in Minot and Williston, forcing them to travel to the other counties to meet court dates there.
The district has experienced rapid growth due largely to the oil boom in the region, increasing the population of every county. The district gained 10,145 residents from 2010 to the end of 2012. All six countiesBurke, Divide, McKenzie, Mountrail, Ward, and Williamsexperienced growth, but Williams and Ward grew the most with 4,299 and 3,123 people respectively. But Ward County already has five chambered judges. Williston only has two.
The district saw significant growth in case filings beginning in 2010, with 30,793 filings that year increasing to 42,321 filings by the end of 2012. Williams County jumped from 23 percent of total district caseload, or 6,089 filings, to 25 percent, or 10,635 filings, during that same period, prompting the need for an additional judge.
Williston doesn't have the space for two additional judges, though, and the North Dakota Supreme Court will have to determine where the other judge will be chambered. Stanley and Watford City seem to be the two cities most likely to receive a judge, according to Probst.
"McKenzie County has a much larger caseload coming through there and Mountrail has been hit hard as well," Probst said.
McKenzie County did see a substantial increase in total district caseload over that three-year period, nearly doubling their percentage from 13 percent, or 3,900 filings, to 22 percent, or 9,179 filings. Mountrail has maintained about 14 percent of total caseload, with mild fluctuations, but that is still an increase in filings relative to the growth of the area, raising from 4,176 to 5,637 filings.
The Judicial Nominating Committee is responsible for sending three to five names to Gov. Jack Dalrymple for consideration by mid- to late June, after conducting interviews with all the candidates.
"The deadline for interested parties to voice their opinion ... on where the judgeship should be chambered" is May 31, when the comment period ends, Probst said.
"As a district we try to get a consensus on where we should chamber" the judgeship, she said. "Once we provide our recommendation it is the Supreme Court who ultimately makes the decision."