Administrative Council (Unofficial until approved) Interactive Video Conference
July 20, 2012
Present: Chief Justice Gerald W. VandeWalle, Chair Judge Sonja Clapp Judge Cynthia Feland for Judge Bruce Romanick Judge Laurie Fontaine for Judge Donovan Foughty Judge Gail Hagerty Judge William Herauf Maureen Holman Justice Mary Muehlen Maring for Justice Daniel Crothers Judge Lisa McEvers for Judge Steven McCullough Judge Joel Medd Judge William McLees Judge John Paulson Judge Frank Racek
Staff: Sally Holewa
Others Present: Justice Carol Ronning Kapsner Kim Nelsen Rod Olson Carolyn Probst Donna Wunderlich Don Wolf Larry Zubke
Minutes: Renee Barnaby
Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle called the meeting to order.
Minutes It was moved by Judge Hagerty, seconded by Judge Medd, to approve the June 6, 2012
minutes.The motion carried.
FTE Requests for 2013-2015 Biennium Sally Holewa said the final WAPC report shows an 18.27 clerk need for the state-funded
counties. The total does not include the full-time temporary staff currently employed. If these
positions are taken into account, the total need is reduced to 14.27. At the last meeting, the
Council discussed FTEs and tentatively reached the conclusion to request 29 FTEs. The
sentiment was that we have been asking for part of what we need every session, but this session
we should ask for all of what we need. Today’s meeting was scheduled to continue discussion
on the topic.
Judge Hagerty stated she is particularly concerned with the area of the clerks. Because
temporary employees typically accept full time positions as they become available, they are
continually training in new temps. There is so much training and background knowledge
required, it is not effective to have temporary employees working in those positions. She said
she is in favor of requesting the 29 FTEs.
Justice Maring stated the increase in the support staff in the clerk and juvenile offices is quite
significant and asked if the units have adequate space available. All of the units indicated the
space is available. Judge McLees added that the Ward County Commission is getting closer to
having an office building constructed to the north of the courthouse, which would take care of
the space needs. If the county goes forward with the new office building, the court would remain
in the existing courthouse under a renovation plan that was drafted in 2009. The court is
monitoring the situation and providing input on the proposed renovation to the county
Chief Justice VandeWalle reiterated his concerns from the last meeting that there is a risk in
asking for too much and getting less than we would have if we modified the request to a more
modest number. They may view it as us not putting in the effort to prioritize our needs. He said
that although we were careful to frame the need for a new case management system as a
necessary technology update and not as a means to cut staff, it was suggested by some legislators
last session when we asked for more clerk staff that the court should be able to cut staff now that
we have a new case management system. That mentality may still be there this sessions.
Judge Medd stated he supports the request for 29 FTEs because the numbers are justified by the
study. He noted the west is bulging, and virtually every week there is another story in the
newspaper about the problems created. Chief Justice VandeWalle noted there is also a need in
the eastern part of the state, and we will have to make a case for both. He said the study is a
guide and our needs are based on what employees are experiencing around the state We are
going to have to rely on testimony from the people, and in particular, the clerks, to make the
Judge Hagerty stated we may be able to get some support from the State Bar Association. She
said attorneys in the western part of the state are really supportive of the need for additional clerk
staff. She said with regard to the study, we are averaging numbers from 2010-11, which clearly
is not reasonable in the western part of the state where we know the numbers are continuing to
It was moved by Judge Hagerty, seconded by Judge Medd, to make the request for the 29
Chief Justice VandeWalle asked the Council to begin discussion on how to divide the FTEs in
the event we do not get every FTE we request.
Judge McEvers asked if there has been any discussion about asking the legislature for money for
overtime in lieu of using comp time. Rod Olson responded the court administrators met with
Don Wolf earlier in the week and preliminarily discussed it as an alternative. Ms. Holewa stated
she does not have an issue with the idea of paying of overtime as opposed to comp time except to
the extent that we expect people to work 10 or 12 hour days routinely because we do not have
enough staff. It then flies underneath the radar and we burn out our employees. At the same
time, the work is getting done so there is no impact to the public or anyone else so who might
support our request for additional staff. In the end, it hurts our employees, and it hurts us if we
do it routinely. She would prefer to see offices closing early to the public instead of overtime.
Judge Medd added that the clerks put in a lot of comp time when they were implementing
Odyssey. Some of the clerks are still using arm braces for carpel tunnel that resulted from
working a lot of excess hours. So there is certainly an issue of wearing out employees.
Justice Kapsner suggested that the numbers relating to overtime compensation be presented to
the legislature to support our need for FTEs. Ms. Wunderlich stated it is too late to develop the
numbers because they have cut corners in the work and quit doing collection activities to get the
work done in the time allotted.
With regard to comp time, Mr. Olson noted every effort is made not to use it because it still
requires people to be out of the office.
Judge Paulson noted the possibility of staggering hours. Mr. Olson responded while it may work
in some courthouses, it is not an option in Fargo because it takes all the employees to operate the
Chief Justice VandeWalle noted another option is cutting back on the hours available to the
public. Williston closes their offices for one afternoon a week. It is efficient however it is not
something that sells well publically.
The motion carried.
Judgeships Ms. Holewa stated the final weighted caseload study indicates a shortage of 3.5 judges statewide.
It was the consensus of the Council that they are firm on adding judgeships as opposed to
referees or law clerks. Judge Hagerty suggested two be requested in the Williston area and one
Judge McLees said at least one additional judge is needed in Unit 4. They do have plans to do
some additional remodeling in Williston, so they will be able to easily accommodate another
judgeship in that courthouse and one either in Stanley or Watford City. Stanley geographically
would work better but Watford City has better facilities. Even though they are currently
handling the caseload in Minot, the numbers continue to grow. The daily jail roster in Minot is
between 90-100 people, which is far in excess of what the average has been in prior years. In
Williston, even with the new jail facility, they are getting close to reaching capacity. The need is
there and it is increasing. He said we are already behind the curve in meeting the increased
caseload need, and it is difficult to predict where this is going to end up.
Chief Justice VandeWalle said the study is based on what has happened. His concern is what’s
coming. Approximately three to four new highway patrol troopers have been assigned to the
Judge Racek said even though his unit does not want to get behind the eight ball with regard to
FTEs, his foremost concern is continuing to make progress with the case management system
and the stability of the IT staff. He noted the importance of retaining those employees and
making sure there is more than one person with an expertise in a certain field. Right now there
are times we have to wait for a certain person to return to work because they are the person who
can work on the problem. This causes delays in our operations.
It was the consensus of the presiding judges to do what the supreme court thinks is best with
regard to the location of the judgeships.
It was moved by Judge Paulson, seconded by Judge McLees, to apply for the three judge
positions. The motion carried.
Discuss and Approve Funding for GAL Program Sally Holewa explained a basic grant has been used to fund part of the administrative cost of the
GAL program, which only covers about a third of the costs. The other two-thirds are general
fund. The Court Improvement Committee is asking that we pay all of the administrative costs
from the general fund, and we use the funds from the basic grant to hire two quality assurance
specialists to monitor and track the child welfare cases through the system to ensure timely
disposition of these cases.
In response to a question asking how much would be pushed to the general fund, Don Wolf
responded approximately $200,000. Judge Clapp said she recently attended a court improvement
meeting in Washington, D.C. She said the new trend is continuous quality improvement so it
would be beneficial to meet the federal criteria through employing two quality assurance
specialists to monitor and track these cases. She added if we do not meet the federal guidelines,
the state runs the risk of losing the funding, which may be substantially more than the $200,000
it would cost to hire these employees.
At this point, the meeting was abruptly terminated due to the loss of connectivity with remote
sites. It was decided by the Chief Justice that we would accept the recommendation submitted
by the Court Improvement Committee unless any member of the Administrative Council
objected to the proposal. An email explaining the decision was sent to all Administrative
Council members later that day. No objections to the recommendation were raised and the
recommendation was accepted.