Justice Carol Ronning Kapsner, Chair Randal Albrecht, Administrator, Medcenter
One Living Center Judge Zane Anderson, Southwest Judicial
District Aaron Birst, Legal Counsel, ND Association
of Counties Louie Hentzen, Ass’t State Court
Administrator (for Sally Holewa, State Court
Administrator) Rep. Kim Koppelman, West Fargo Cynthia Lindquist, President, Cankdeska
Cikana Community College Dave Maring, Attorney, Bismarck/Mandan Dave McGeary Kristi Pettit, Attorney, Grand Forks Charles Placek, Director of Admin. Svcs,
DOCR Judge Daniel Narum, Southeast Judicial
Rep. Lois Delmore, Grand Forks JoAnne Hoesel, Director, Div. of Mental
Health & Substance Abuses Svcs, DHS Sally Holewa, State Court Administrator Judge Frank Racek, East Central Judicial
District Sandi Tabor, Vice President of Government
Affairs, Lignite Council
Amy Vorachek, Department of Corrections
Chair Kapsner called the meeting to order at 10:00 a.m. and drew Committee members’
attention to Attachment B (November 23, 2011) - minutes of the August 26, 2011, meeting.
It was moved by Kristi Pettit, seconded by Aaron Birst, and carried that the minutes
Charles Placek informed the Committee that he would soon be retiring. He introduced Amy
Vorachek, who will be his successor at the Department. He said he would discuss with Leann
Bertsch, DOCR Director, whether he would continue as a Committee member.
Facility Standards - Draft Proposal
Chair Kapsner drew Committee members’ attention to Attachment C (November 23, 2011) -
draft proposed facility standards prepared by Sally Holewa. The proposal suggests three
classifications of court facilities, with a classification assigned to a facility based on a point system.
The point system is, in turn, generally based on the criteria for reviewing chamber locations set out
in Administrative Rule 7.1.
Dave Maring asked whether other facility standards, such as the New York standards
previously reviewed by the Committee, were considered in developing the proposed standards. Louie
Hentzen said the proposal is generally informed by the criteria in Administrative Rule 7.1 and
considerations regarding allocation of resources and the general availability in the community of
Aaron Birst noted that Griggs County voters had recently rejected a $4.7 million project for
a new courthouse. He said voters approved a mill levy increase for new road construction. He said
the voter response may be a general indication that taxpayers tend to support expenditures for things
they frequently use, such as roads, but not for things they do not often use, such as courthouses. With
respect to the proposed standards, he said each classification level recommends screening of all
persons entering the courthouse. He said many counties simply do not have the resources to support
a full-time screening effort.
Judge Anderson said a similar personnel issue exists with Stark County, a county with
somewhat greater resources. Aaron Birst noted, as a related issue, that the Stark County sheriff’s
office is handling an extra burden associated with court cases coming from other counties.
Louie Hentzen said Fargo, Minot, Bismarck, and Grand Forks are the only cities at present
that have front-door security at the courthouse.
Rep. Koppelman suggested with respect to the future of the courts that broader consideration
be given to security issues statewide. He said it may be helpful to obtain information from other
governmental entities about security needs and resources.
Charles Placek said there are two general issues related to enhanced security efforts at
courthouses: the economic impact on counties, particularly smaller counties, and access to the
courthouse. With respect to the latter, he said impeded access projects suspicion and may be
perceived as an implicit accusation that citizens are not trusted. He said the level of intrusiveness that
often accompanies enhanced security will affect the public’s response to security measures. Rep.
Koppelman agreed and said while security is an understandable concern for the courts, enhanced
security measures may collide with North Dakota’s tradition of openness.
Justice Kapsner asked whether there are different considerations with respect to courthouses
with a high volume of court activity, where regular security measures might be implemented, and
smaller counties, where a more ad hoc approach may work. She agreed, however, that implementing
certain security measures should not be a mandatory requirement imposed on counties.
Randal Albrecht noted that Medcenter One can be locked down in approximately five
minutes, some areas are restricted access, and all guards carry Tasers. He said the culture is
beginning to change and the public may be more understanding that safety concerns are now more
pronounced than they were in the past.
Cynthia Lindquist observed that with the advent of video surveillance, students at her
community college are accustomed to the idea that there will be some level of monitoring on the
Judge Narum noted that in a recent discussion with county commissioners about whether to
improve video surveillance or obtain a metal detector, he indicated his preference for a metal
detector if there was only one possibility. He said his primary objective is to keep weapons out of
the courtroom. In response to a question from Aaron Birst, he said in Sargent County a deputy sheriff
will be present in the courtroom if he requests. He emphasized that rural judges deserve the same
consideration for security needs as judges in high traffic courthouses as the potential risk is certainly
In response to a question from Dave McGeary, Aaron Birst said the majority of sheriff’s
offices are located in the courthouse. Additionally, he noted that there is no clear statutory obligation
for the sheriff to provide courtroom security, although there is a general duty to attend sessions of
Dave Maring said the draft proposal is a very good beginning and the issues discussed by the
Committee should be noted. He asked whether his subcommittee reviewing facility standards,
security issues, and collaborative efforts with counties should review the proposal more closely and
return to the Committee with an assessment.
Chair Kapsner agreed the subcommittee should review the proposed standards and consider
any possible revisions. She asked that the Committee generally discuss the proposed standards with
the aim of identifying any areas that may need further development. She said the Committee should
also be cognizant of the possible political reception for any recommended facility standards.
Charles Placek asked whether there is any authority in law that would require a county to
comply with facility standards. Staff said there are general statutory requirements that counties
provide court-related facilities (N.D.C.C. §§11-10-20 and 27-01-01.1). But, he said, other than a
general reference to providing “adequate” facilities, there is no statutory direction regarding a
specific kind of facility.
With respect to the general tone and presentation of the proposed standards, Justice Kapsner
asked whether the proposal could be a basis for approaching the Association of Counties to discuss
the concept. Aaron Birst responded that the proposal is likely a useful beginning. He said after the
proposal is further revised he would like to distribute it for assessment and comment. He said
counties would appreciate some level of guidance regarding particular court facility needs.
Chair Kapsner requested any further comments from Committee members about the specific
contents of the proposal.
Dave Maring drew attention to Section IIIB in each of the classifications which pertains to
“Public Space”. He said there is no mention of ensuring space in the courtroom for observers. Justice
Kapsner responded that while it is implicit that there would be a level of accessibility, a general
statement about ensuring adequate space in the courtroom for observers would be a good addition.
Dave Maring noted that throughout the proposal terms such as “may”, “should”, “must”, and
“requires” are used. He wondered whether these were intended to be important distinctions and
whether specific obligations are intended where mandatory kinds of terms are used. For example,
he noted the reference to “should be screened”. He asked whether that reference means persons “will
be” screened or only that persons entering the courthouse know that they “can be” screened. He
suggested that the operative words should be reviewed for substance and consistent, uniform use.
For that reason, he said it would of interest whether the proposal is based, in some part, on standards
from other jurisdictions.
Charles Placek agreed the proposal is a good beginning overall. But, he said, the proposal
reads more like an executive summary of standards. He asked whether at some point there would be
a more detailed explanation since many of the recommended standards, such as whether something
is “adequate”, may be in the eye of the beholder.
Dave Maring suggested greater detail in recommended standards may be more useful for a
county considering building a new courthouse than for a county considering a variety of
improvements to an existing facility.
Justice Kapsner said the National Center for State Courts may be a resource for general
facility standards. Judge Narum agreed more detail would be useful and that a reference to the
National Center as a resource should be included.
Randal Albrecht emphasized that the general purpose of the standards should be clear, that
is, whether they are provided for guidance or whether they would require counties to take certain
Justice Kapsner said the statutory obligation regarding facilities is general, but unclear.
Consequently, she said, there should be flexibility in the proposed standards and a recognition that
they are intended to provide guidance rather than to mandate that counties provide a certain kind of
Cynthia Lindquist suggested a preliminary glossary would be helpful in generally defining
the meaning and scope of certain terms, such as “adequate”.
After further discussion, Chair Kapsner said the proposed standards would be considered
further at the next meeting.
Administrative Unit Realignment - Proposal
Chair Kapsner next drew Committee members’ attention to Attachment E (November 23,
2011) - a proposal for realignment of administrative units prepared by the trial court administrative
staff. She said the proposal was developed, in part, in response to a Committee request following
discussion at the August meeting. She noted that the proposal concludes with general considerations
about changing judicial district boundaries to facilitate the unit realignment and the need for statutory
changes to enable judges to act outside their judicial district. Staff distributed a map roughly
detailing the relationship between the proposed administrative units and existing judicial districts.
Justice Kapsner observed that changing judicial district boundaries to the extent
contemplated in the proposal would have several political implications. However, she said if the
system were beginning from a blank slate, the proposal appears to be a sensible approach.
Charles Placek agreed the proposed realignment of administrative units seems to be a
worthwhile beginning. As a general comment, he suggested that the judicial system should
substantively review judicial district boundaries each decade, much like the legislative branch
redraws legislative districts after each census. Additionally, he suggested it may be time to review
the statutory requirement that no more than 70% of district judge chambers may be located in cities
with a population more than 10,000 [N.D.C.C. §27-05-08(1)]. He said the concern for maintaining
judicial services in rural areas is important, but the challenge is to find the balance between
maintaining services while ensuring effective judicial system operation.
Dave McGeary observed that the statute that governs chambers distribution only requires that
a judge live within the judicial district in which the judge’s chambers are located. Consequently, he
said, some judges do not live in the city in which they are chambered. But, he said, judicial services
in the area are still provided.
Aaron Birst said counties are no longer greatly concerned about where judges are chambered.
He said the principal concern is whether judicial services are provided in the area.
Louie Hentzen wondered how county residents would respond if judicial services were
provided by a judge elected in a different judicial district from the one in which the county is located.
Justice Kapsner noted that the administrative unit realignment would seem to require that
judicial district boundaries be modified, otherwise some judicial districts would be split between
units which would make little sense.
Louie Hentzen observed that redrawing district boundaries to accommodate the unit
realignment would affect some judicial referees and the areas they currently serve.
Justice Kapsner explained further that conforming judicial districts to the proposed unit
alignment would require moving some counties into or out of existing judicial districts. For purposes
of discussion, she noted the following changes that would conform to the proposed unit alignment,
and the chambered judges affected to some degree by the changes:
Kidder, Logan, and McIntosh counties would be moved from the South Central
Judicial District to the Southeast Judicial District. No judges are chambered in those
Steele and Traill counties would be moved from the East Central Judicial District to
the Northeast Central Judicial District. Judge Webb would be affected as he is
chambered in Traill County.
Wells, Foster, and Eddy counties would be moved from the Southeast Judicial
District to the Northeast Judicial District. Judge Hovey would be affected as he is
chambered in New Rockford.
Rolette, Pierce, Bottineau, McHenry, and Renville counties would be moved from
the Northeast Judicial District to the Northwest Judicial District. Judge McClintock,
chambered in Rugby, and Judge Sturdevant, chambered in Bottineau, would be
Charles Placek said there appear to be two general alternatives: 1) modify judicial districts
to align with the administrative units, or 2) return to having two judicial districts in each unit, which
would result in eight smaller judicial districts for election purposes.
With respect to election areas, Rep. Koppelman asked how much of an impact geographic
distance has on judicial elections. Additionally, he asked whether personal contact with judicial
candidates is a significant factor given ethical restrictions governing conduct and statements in
judicial elections. Judge Anderson said it is difficult to gauge the effect of personal contact during
an election, but it is important that residents served by a judge see the judge in the community from
time to time.
Dave Maring wondered whether the Committee could offer a broad recommendation, such
as establishing four administrative units with two judicial districts in each unit, without greater detail
regarding county location. Justice Kapsner said that since the redistricting study was referred to the
Committee, the Committee could recommend specific judicial district configurations.
Aaron Birst observed that the proposed unit realignment may provide greater flexibility for
court administrators and an ability to move personnel around within the system. But, he asked, where
efficiencies would be achieved by the realignment. Justice Kapsner responded that the realignment
is aimed principally at achieving general equity or parity in workload and population served by
judges and court personnel. She said Judge Racek has suggested that greater equity within the system
in these areas will contribute to greater efficiencies in how court business is conducted.
Chair Kapsner asked whether Committee members had suggestions for any revisions to the
proposed unit realignment.
Charles Placek suggested the court administrative staff be asked to consider, using the same
criteria used in developing the proposal, a system comprised of four units, with two judicial districts
in each unit. Judge Narum agreed it would be of interest to consider how judicial districts could be
configured using the same criteria used for the unit alignment. There was also general agreement that
the Committee should consider an arrangement in which judicial district boundaries for the two
districts in each unit would remain fairly similar to current boundaries.
Justice Kapsner noted Judge Racek’s earlier concern that a judge’s jurisdiction is defined by
the judicial district in which the judge is elected. She said expanding the number of judicial districts
to eight would create more, although smaller, areas of jurisdiction. She said statutory changes would
be necessary to enable judges to act outside their election districts on a regular basis.
Rep. Koppelman agreed with the earlier suggestion that the judicial system should review
judicial district boundaries at least every ten years.
Following further discussion, Committee members agreed court administrative staff should
be requested to develop two variations comprised of four administrative units with two judicial
districts in each unit. The first variation should consider boundaries for the two districts in each unit
based only on the criteria used for the unit realignment proposal. The second variation should
consider two districts in each unit but with district boundaries similar, to the extent possible, to
Judge Narum suggested the Committee should hear in more detail about the problems in the
current administrative and district arrangement that are thought to be solved by the proposed
Chair Kapsner said the Committee would continue discussion of the realignment proposals
at the next meeting.