It’s official — a third district judge will soon be chambered in Williston.
The North Dakota Supreme Court issued a ruling last week to put the new judge in Williston due to the rapid increase in cases in Williams County.
“The Northwest Judicial District is currently where the majority of the state’s oil and gas activity is taking place, and Williston is at the center,” the ruling read. “This activity has dramatically impacted essential service providers, including the court system. Case filings are significantly increasing throughout the district.”
According to statistics released by the Supreme Court, Williams County had 6,971 cases in 2010 and 10,635 cases in 2012.
The order said it is likely the caseload will continue to climb.
“The workload of the judicial officers in the district will continue to increase, as there is no evidence that interest in the oil and gas reserves in the Bakken and Three Forks Formations will soon subside,” it read. “Williston topped $470 million last year in construction and remodel permit valuation, and added a dozen new hotels since 2010. Chambering a third judge in Williston will reduce the continually increasing workload of the two district judges currently there and aid in the prompt disposition of cases.”
The report said construction at the Williams County Memorial Courthouse will provide room for a third judge. Construction of new chambers and a third courtroom will be complete in August.
The order said the presiding judge consulted with all the judges in the district, which includes Minot, and the judges favor putting a third judge in Williston.
With that information, the five Supreme Court justices ordered judgeship No. 10 to be chambered in Williston.
In a discussion with Williams County commissioners last week, District Judge David Nelson said the third judge is desperately needed.
He explained that in Minot, there are six district judges and a person called a referee that can handle some cases.
In that district, cases are scheduled six deep when a jury trial is set to ensure one can go to trial.
In Williams County, things are much busier.
“Thirty cases are scheduled on the same day and in front of the same judge,” Nelson said. “We hope that some of them settle.”
Nelson said in his office the trials being scheduled now are being set for February 2014.
“We are doing the equivalent of seven judges,” he said.
In the Minot court, six judges and seven state’s attorneys handled 3,380 cases last year. In Williston, two judges and three attorneys handled 4,076.
In addition, 40 percent of all probate cases in the state last year came from a four-county area around Williston.
With the extreme caseload that seems to be climbing daily, Nelson said more help will be needed soon.
“In two years, I’m going to be asking for a referee and I’m going to be asking for another judge,” he said. “I will need more space and another courtroom.”
Nelson said the third judge is expected to begin work Sept. 1.
A second new judge is expected to be chambered in Northwest North Dakota, possibly in Watford City, but the Supreme Court has not issued a ruling to chamber that judge.