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Politics & Government

Back to square one for a South Central judicial appointment

Another twist in replacing a retiring South Central district judge.

As Prairie Public’s Dave Thompson reports, the story has had a number of twist, turns and detours.

It began when District Judge Donald Jorgenson announced he would not seek re-election to the judgeship. Three lawyers filed to be on the June primary ballot. However, Jorgenson decided to retire early – and under state law, that means Gov. Dalrymple would get to appoint Jorgenson’s successor, thereby cancelling the election.

Dalrymple called the Judicial Nominating Commission to screen applicants for the job. That commission recommended two attorneys for Dalrymple to consider – Steve Balavan of Bismarck and Brian Grossinger of Mandan. But there’[s a hitch.

“One of the candidates that applied had listed an affiliation, I think he is a vice-chairman for a political party,” said Judicial Nominating Committee chairman Duane Houdek. “There’s a rule of judicial conduct that applies to attorneys who even declare their candidacy for a judgeship, either through election or appointment, that basically says they should not seek that office while they hold a political office.”

Houdek says in this case, Grossinger is a Republican party official – who did not resign his post before declaring his interest in the judgeship. And he says the Nominating Committee didn’t think anything of it, because Grossinger divulged it.

"I thought it was one of those things that could be cured prior to any appointment,” said Houdek. But he says the rule is very clear, so Grossinger had to be disqualified. The law says the Committee has to recommend no fewer than two names to the Governor. Houdek says the Governor was told about this, and he asked the Committee to reconvene. And now, it’s back to square one.

“The applicants who had applied certainly can apply again," said Houdek. "It basically starts over. Anyone can apply for that judgeship, and we’ll go through the same process we normally do when there’s a vacancy.”

By statute, the Committee has 60 days from the receipt of the Governor’s letter to select between 2 and 7 nominees. State bar association executive director Tony Weiler says the letter was received last Friday, so the clock is ticking.

“We sent out the application information to our membership," said Weiler. "They have until June 17th to fill out an application and send it in. We will then do what we normally do, survey our members, and then we will hold the interviews, probably that second week in July.”

Weiler says the committee just missed it. And that’s added a level of complexity to filling this judgeship.

“From being one where there was going to be a retirement to a resignation, where there was going to be an election to an appointment, to having to reconvene the committee to go through the process again – we wish it was done, let’s put it that way,” said Weiler.

Weiler says Grossinger can re-apply – if he gives up his party position.

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