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Judge elections may change in ND

By Dave Thompson

Bismarck, ND – An interim Legislative committee is looking at how North Dakota's judge campaigns may be run.

Federal court rulings say candidates for judgeships can declare party affiliations, answer questions about issues and directly ask for campaign donations.

Under North Dakota's rules, judge candidates have to form a separate committee to raise funds for their campaigns. And they're not supposed to know who their money backers are.

North Dakota chief justice Gerald VandeWalle says he's worried about how the changes will affect the independence of the North Dakota judiciary. VandeWalle told the Legislature's interim Judicial Process Committee if judges know who's donating to their campaigns -- it could cause an increase in the number of times judges remove themselves from cases. And he says that could cause a whole new set of problems.

"We have a very small judiciary," VandeWalle said. "And if we have judges recusing more often, it presents its own set of problems in finding judges to replace them."

North Dakota only has 42 district judges.

The State Bar Association is convening a task force to look at the issue -- and to work with the Committee on potential changes.