Another district judge will soon be heading to the oil patch.
Just weeks after announcing Williston would be getting a third district judge, the North Dakota Supreme Court ordered a new judge to Watford City on Tuesday.
In the recent legislative session, the North Dakota Legislature approved two new district judges. The first judge was chambered in Williston and is expected to begin by Sept. 1.
The second judge was ordered to Watford City this week, adding a fourth judge to the region in an effort to handle a massive increase in cases.
According to the order from the Supreme Court, the McKenzie County Commission and Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford supported bringing the new judge to Watford City.
“The caseload alone warrants placing a judge back in Watford City,” Sanford said. “The official population may not warrant it, but the actual population also warrants it.”
In the order, the Supreme Court said the increased caseload in the entire region has made a new judge necessary.
“All counties in the Northwest Judicial District have been impacted by the oil and gas activity in the western half of the state,” the order read. “This activity has dramatically impacted essential service providers, including the court system. Case filings are significantly increasing throughout the district.”
According to the court records, 3,911 cases were filed in McKenzie County in 2010. In 2011, 5,333 cases were filed and last year, 9,179 cases were filed. During the same time period, the number of cases field in Williams County went from 6,971 to 10,635.
Due to the increased cases in McKenzie County, a surrogate judge has been working in the county one week every month to help handle the cases. Before the surrogate judge, a Minot judge traveled to Watford City one day a month. Sanford said a permanent judge will be a big improvement.
“It’s very inefficient,” he said. “These guys are coming down here from Williston, and by the time they get here, half their day is done.”
While new judges in Williston and Watford City will help ease the caseload, there will still likely be some delays, the order read.
“The Northwest Judicial District currently has a shortage of judicial resources,” it read. “Based upon the caseload trends, even with new Judgeship Nos. 10 and 11, the district will likely continue to show a shortage.”
While the new judge in Watford City will spend most of his or her time in McKenzie County, Williams County will also benefit.
“If this judgeship is chambered in Watford City, the judge will be primarily responsible for the caseload in McKenzie County from preliminary hearing through trial, and will provide support to Williston, 46 miles away, and possibly Crosby, 114 miles away,” the order read. “According to the report, it is anticipated that a judge chambered in Watford City will likely need to travel to Williston at least one week per month to assist the judges chambered in Williston.”
The Supreme Court considered putting the judge in one of three cities — Watford City, Williston and Stanley.
Because most of the increased caseload is in Williams County and McKenzie County, the Supreme Court said Watford City was a better choice.
“Based on the cumulative information provided in the report, a judge chambered in Stanley could be on the road three weeks out of every month, and the need may increase for the judges chambered in Minot to travel to Williston and Watford City on a regular basis to assist in the increasing caseload,” the order read. “When a judge travels from the chambered city, that judge is routinely accompanied by an electronic court recorder or court reporter.”
With that information, the court ordered the new judge to be chambered in Watford City.
“It makes sense, and I’m glad they chose Watford City,” Sanford said.