Left to right: (Sitting) Justice Dale V. Sandstrom; Chief Justice Gerald W. VandeWalle; Justice William A. Neumann; (Standing) Justice Carol Ronning Kapsner; Justice Mary Muehlen Maring
The North Dakota Supreme Court has five Justices. Each Justice is elected for a ten-year term on a nonpartisan ballot. The terms of the Justices are staggered so that only one judgeship is scheduled for election every two years. Each Justice must be a licensed attorney and a citizen of the United States and North Dakota.
One member of the Supreme Court is selected as Chief Justice by the Justices of the Supreme Court and the District Court Judges. The Chief Justice's term is for five years or until the Justice's elected term on the court expires. The Chief Justice's duties include presiding over Supreme Court conferences, representing the judiciary at official state functions, and serving as the administrative head of the judicial system.
The North Dakota Supreme Court is the highest court for the State of North Dakota. It has two major types of responsibilities: (1) adjudicative and (2) administrative.
In its adjudicative capacity, the Supreme Court is primarily an appellate court with jurisdiction to hear appeals from decisions of the district courts. In addition, the Court also has original jurisdiction authority and can issue such original and remedial writs as are necessary to exercise this authority.
The state constitution requires that a majority of the Justices is necessary before the Court can conduct its adjudicative business. In addition, the Court cannot declare a legislative enactment unconstitutional unless four of the Justices so decide. When the Court reverses, modifies, remits or affirms a trial court judgment or order, it is required to issue a written opinion stating the reasons for its decision. Any Justice disagreeing with the majority opinion may issue a dissenting opinion which explains the reasons for the disagreement with the majority.
In its administrative capacity, the Supreme Court has responsibility for ensuring the efficient and effective operation of all nonfederal courts in the state, maintaining high standards of judicial conduct, supervising the legal profession, and promulgating procedural rules which allow for the orderly and efficient transaction of judicial business. Within each area of administrative responsibility the Court has general rulemaking authority.
The Court carries out its administrative responsibilities with the assistance of various committees and boards. It exercises its authority to admit and license attorneys through the State Bar Board. Its supervision of legal ethics is exercised through the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court and its supervision of judicial conduct is exercised through the Judicial Conduct Commission. Continuing review and study of specific subject areas within its administrative jurisdiction is provided through five advisory committees - the Joint Procedure Committee, the Joint Committee on Attorney Standards, the Judiciary Standards Committee, the Court Services Administration Committee, and the Judicial Planning Committee. Other committees, such as the Continuing Judicial Education Commission, Juvenile Policy Board, Personnel Policy Board, and the Legal Counsel for Indigents Commission, also provide valuable assistance to the Supreme Court in important administrative areas.
Administrative personnel of the Supreme Court also play a vital role in helping the court fulfill its administrative functions. The clerk of the Supreme Court supervises the calendaring and assignment of cases, oversees the distribution and publication of Supreme Court opinions and administrative rules and orders, and decides certain procedural motions filed with the Court. The state court administrator is responsible for the budgetary oversight of the judicial system, prepares statistical reports on the workload of the state's courts, provides judicial educational services, and performs such other administrative duties that are assigned by the Supreme Court. The state law librarian supervises the operation of the state law library.
The North Dakota Supreme Court went "live" in 1999 when some oral arguments were broadcast via the Court's web page to commemorate Law Day and again in the Fall. The response was positive, according to the number of "hits" on the web page. Periodically, oral arguments will again be broadcast on the web. Visit http://www.ndcourts.com for the latest news about the Court.
Consistent, steady, and unremarkable describes the Supreme Court's workload for calendar year 1999 from a statistical standpoint. These same adjectives, obviously, do not describe the impact of the unusual adjudicative and administrative decisions the Court was required to make during the year.
As the charts on this page and the next indicate, the Court saw a slight increase in case filings. The significant decrease in criminal filings somewhat balanced out the caseload despite an increase in civil filings. Decreases in appeals from drug and sexual offense convictions were dramatic, 69%, which attributes to the decline in criminal filings. This decrease changed a two-year pattern of increases. Appeals involving the Workers' Compensation Bureau increased 81%, while appeals in family law cases involving divorce, child custody or support, marital property or alimony issues decreased by 24%. These two areas accounted for approximately 22% of the Court's workload in 1999. Other areas which saw increases were employer/ employee disputes, oil and gas, miscellaneous statutory felonies, real property, paternity and post-conviction relief proceedings.
The most appeals originated from the South Central District, followed by the East Central, Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, Northeast Central and Southwest Districts.
In addition to authoring an average of 49 majority opinions each, another 52 concurring and/or dissenting opinions were separately authored. There were 242 oral arguments calendared. Administratively, the Court's agenda was overflowing with the legislative session, weekly motions and administrative conferences, committee work on both a state and national level, visits with students and others, and official appearances. Adding to the administrative workload were pro se appearances in 22% of the cases.
CASELOAD SYNOPSIS OF THE SUPREME COURT FOR THE 1999 AND 1998 CALENDAR YEARS
|Transferred to Court of Appeals||0||16||-100|
|New Filings Balance||382||364||4.9|
|Filings Carried Over From Previous Calendar Year||186*||200*||-7.0|
|Total Cases Docketed||568*||564*||0.7|
|Cases Pending as of December 31||188||211*||-11.0|
CASE DISPOSITIONS - 1999
|Affirmed & Modified||3||0|
|Reversed; Reversed & Remanded||39||6|
|Affirmed in Part & Reversed in Part; Affirmed in Part & Dismissed in Part||20||1|
|Affirmed by Summary Disposition||17||11|
|Reversed by Summary Disposition||1||0|
|Certified Question Answered Remanded||1||0|
|Dispositions by Opinion||203||80|
|Dismissed After Conference||19||18|
|Original Jurisdiction- Denied & Granted in Part||1||0|
|No Court Action Required||0||1|
|Dispositions by Order||64||33|
|Total Dispositions for 1999||267||113|
CASELOAD OVERVIEW OF NORTH DAKOTA COURTS FOR 1999 AND 1998
|Level of Court||Filings|
North Dakota Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals was established in 1987 to assist the Supreme Court in managing its workload. No cases were assigned to the Court of Appeals in 1999. However, the 1999 Legislative Assembly extended the authorization for the Court of Appeals to January 1, 2004.
Since it was established, the Court of Appeals has disposed of 67 cases.
Cases assigned to the Court of Appeals, under Administrative Rule 27, included family law issues, appeals from administrative agency decisions, appeals from trial court orders on motions for summary judgment, appeals involving cases originating under the Uniform Juvenile Court Act, and appeals from misdemeanor convictions.
Statistical summaries of the Court of Appeals cases assignments and dispositions follow.
CASELOAD SYNOPSIS OF THE COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE 1999 CALENDAR YEAR
|1999 Cases Assigned|
|1998 & 1997 Cases Pending|
|Total Cases Docketed|
|Cases Pending as of December 31|
|TOTAL 1999 DISPOSITIONS||2||1|