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Judges, lawyers concerned about partisan judge elections

By Dave Thompson

Bismarck, ND – The executive director of the State Bar Association of North Dakota says judges and lawyers are worried about introducing partisan politics into the races for judgeships.

William Neumann -- a former North Dakota Supreme Court judge -- says two recent federal court cases -- one in North Dakota and one in Minnesota -- have basically struck down North Dakota's rules on conducting judge elections. Those rules said judge elections are no-party -- and they spell out what a judge candidate can -- and can't -- say, and how a candidate raises money.

The Bar Association has a task force looking at the issue. Neumann says the task force is concerned about the impact partisanship may have on the public perception of fairness and impartiality. But he told the interim Judicial Process committee -- he doesn't think North Dakotans will buy into appointing judges.

"Speaking as a North Dakota citizen, we like votin' for people," said Neumann. "We'd rather vote for more people than less people."

Neumann says he couldn't see North Dakota adopting the federal system -- where the judges are appointed for life.

"All of the federal judges seem to take the position that -- 'Well, if you're going to do something sort of slummy like actually elect your judges, then these are the fleas that go with that dog

Neumann says the task force hopes to have some recommendations early next year -- but he says they'll be too late for the 2006 election cycle.