- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Four new judgeships approved by the North Dakota Legislature will be headquartered in Williston, Watford City, Mandan and Dickinson - districts that have been undermanned in recent years because of increased population and caseloads brought on by rapid oil development.

“It’s going to make a difference,” North Dakota Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle said Thursday.

The Legislature approved the new judgeships earlier this year after VandeWalle appealed to state lawmakers to add them and additional court employees to keep pace with increased workloads spurred by the explosion of oil development in the western part of the state.

The Supreme Court announced the locations of the judgeships this week.

“The lack of judges and court staff affects entire communities,” VandeWalle said in his State of the Judiciary speech to a joint session of the North Dakota House and Senate in January. “Those charged with crimes sit in jail longer while they wait their day in court and a judgment of guilt or innocence. This is disruptive to their own lives and those of their families.”

District judges handle civil and criminal trials, and other court business. North Dakota currently as 47 district judges, including three that were added two years ago at VandeWalle’s request. The additional judges will bring to 51 the number spread out in eight districts across the state.

When the state was losing population during the 1990s, the number of county and state district judges was cut from 53 to 42 - including several western positions - as part of a court consolidation plan that put all of North Dakota’s trial judges on the state payroll. Previously, some judges were county employees.

North Dakota’s oil bonanza that began about eight years ago spurred the need to add more court officials, as crime and population increased.

Jack McDonald, state bar association president, said the additional judges should help “speed the process,” though the court system also needs more lawyers to handle the workload.

“There has to be prosecutors and defense attorneys - it’s all interwoven,” McDonald said. “Some of the state attorneys’ offices are stretched pretty thin.”

Gov. Jack Dalrymple will appoint the judges based on a nominating committee’s recommendations. VandeWalle said he expects the judges to be on the bench by the end of the year.

The cost to establish the new judgeships is about $1.7 million per two-year budget cycle, officials have said.

Dalrymple also will be appointing at least two other judges in the coming months, to fill one vacancy in Grand Forks and an expected vacancy in Bottineau, the chief justice said.

“He’s got his work cut out for him,” VandeWalle said of the governor.

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