IN RE: the VACANCY IN JUDGESHIP NO. 2, WITH CHAMBERS IN VALLEY CITY, SOUTHEAST JUDICIAL DISTRICT
[¶1] On March 9, 2022, the Honorable Mark T. Blumer, Judge of the District Court, Southeast Judicial District, informed this Court he does not intend to seek reelection when his term expires. Judge Blumer is chambered in Valley City and his term expires December 31, 2022. Under N.D.C.C. § 27-05-02.1(2), a vacancy in the office of district judge occurs if a judge declares the intention not to seek reelection.
[¶2] Under N.D.C.C. § 27-05-02.1, within 90 days of receiving notice of a vacancy, this Court is required to determine whether the office is necessary for effective judicial administration. This Court may, consistent with that determination, order the vacancy filled, order the vacant office transferred to another judicial district in which an additional judge is necessary, or abolish the vacant judicial office, with or without a transfer.
[¶3] Under N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 7.2, notice of a written consultation with attorneys, judges, and other interested persons in the Southeast Judicial District was posted on the website of the Supreme Court March 10, 2022 regarding the vacancy created by Judge Blumer's retirement. Notice was also electronically provided to all presiding judges of the state. Written comments on the vacancy were received through March 25, 2022. The consultation period in this matter was abbreviated due to the upcoming election deadline. This procedure is sufficient for purposes of the consultation required under N.D.C.C. § 27-05-02.1.
[¶4] On March 18, 2022, the judges of the East Central Judicial District filed a Petition to transfer the judgeship from Valley City, North Dakota, to Fargo, North Dakota. Under N.D.C.C. § 27-05-02.1 and 27–05–08, this Court has the authority to determine the location of the chambers of the state's district judges. A number of comments regarding filling the vacancy and the petition to transfer the judgeship were received.
[¶5] The Southeast Judicial District is comprised of fourteen counties: Barnes, Dickey, Eddy, Foster, Griggs, Kidder, LaMoure, Logan, McIntosh, Ransom, Richland, Sargent, Stutsman, and Wells. The district has seven judges: one judge chambered in Ellendale, one in New Rockford, one in Wahpeton, two in Jamestown, and two in Valley City. The district has no judicial referee.
[¶6] On March 14, 2022, the Southeast Judicial District filed a report containing population and caseload trends and other criteria identified in N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 7.2, Section 4. According to the district's report, the judgeship participates in four-week rotation under a six-county plan. Under the plan, the judges rotate duties for Stutsman master calendar, rural master calendar, and two trial weeks. The judgeship is responsible for one-fourth of the master calendar days and 10% of the case assignments in Stutsman County; one-fourth of the master calendar days in Dickey, Kidder, LaMoure, Logan and McIntosh Counties; all case assignments in Sargent County; and one hundred percent of the caseload in Ransom County. The district reported there are no plans for retirement of other judges and that the next judge would reach retirement in 2027. The report discussed the available law enforcement, correctional and court facilities.
[¶7] According to the United States census from 2010 and 2020, the population of the district remained stable. Case filings in the Southeast Judicial District decreased from 7,264 in 2017 to 6,582 in 2021.
[¶8] On March 16, 2022, the State Court Administrator filed weighted caseload statistics for 2020 and 2021. The weighted caseload statistics show that the two-year average need for judicial officers in the Southeast Judicial District was 6.19. The report reflects a district overage of 0.81 of judicial officers based on the 2020-2021 average.
[¶9] We have said that we regard the people who provide judicial services in the district as in the best position to understand the need to reallocate the available judicial resources. Petition to Change Resident Chambers from Watford City to Minot, 2002 ND 54, ¶ 13, 643 N.W.2d 1; Petition to Change the Designation of Either Judgeship No. 2 or No. 6 from Valley City in Barnes County to Jamestown in Stutsman County, 2002 ND 124; ¶ 15, 650 N.W.2d 808. The judges of the Southeast Judicial District filed a comment requesting the judgeship be retained at Valley City. They believe the decrease in case filings was related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. They also noted the loss of the judgeship will increase the travel requirements for the district, which contains nearly one-fourth of the geographic area of North Dakota. The court administrator reported that elimination of the judgeship would have an impact on the district and maintaining it is necessary to provide judicial services to the people of the geographically large Southeast Judicial District. Further, the elimination or transfer of Judgeship No. 2 would present challenges to scheduling and require the remaining judges in the Southeast Judicial District to assume an increased caseload and increase travel time in the district.
[¶10] The requirement of adequate judicial services must be the primary consideration of the Court's exercise of its authority to designate the location of judgeships under N.D.C.C. § 27–05–02.1. Having recently filled two judgeships in the East Central Judicial District, we recognize its need for additional judicial resources. Vacancy in Judgeship No. 6, E.C.J.D., 2022 ND 42, 970 N.W.2d 518; Vacancy in Judgeship No. 4, E.C.J.D., 2021 ND 227, 970 N.W.2d 236. Although the growing population and caseload in the East Central Judicial District demonstrates a clear need for additional judicial officers, moving this judgeship would create a shortage and make it difficult to provide effective judicial services to residents in that district.
[¶11] Based on the record before us, we determine this office is necessary for effective judicial administration in its present location.
[¶12] IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, that Judgeship No. 2, with chambers in Valley City, in the Southeast Judicial District be filled by election.
[¶13] IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, that the Petition to transfer Judgeship No. 2 to the East Central Judicial District is DENIED.
[¶14] Jon J. Jensen, C.J. Gerald W. VandeWalle Daniel J. Crothers Lisa Fair McEvers Jerod E. Tufte
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