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Stoppleworth ends tenure as Belfield judge

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Stoppleworth ends tenure as Belfield judge
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

BELFIELD -- For the last 23 years, if you found yourself summoned to court in Belfield for a traffic violation or other misdemeanor, you found yourself looking into the eyes of Judge Ken Stoppleworth.

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Stoppleworth, who was appointed as the city of Belfield's judge on Jan. 2, 1985, is retiring at the end of this month.

Wednesday was his last night behind the bench, but Stoppleworth still took his job seriously.

"I don't take the job lightly," Stoppleworth said. "...I want to make sure they (the defendants) know their rights and they're respected."

As a result of Stoppleworth's retirement, the city of Belfield is left without a judge. The city council considered looking for a replacement, but the idea didn't gain much traction.

Following the decision to not pursue someone to fill Stoppleworth's position, the council decided it would abolish the Belfield municipal judgeship and transfer all the cases to district court.

The decision became final by the council at a special meeting on March 24. As of March 31, all future cases are to be forwarded to the district court in Dickinson.

From now on, Belfield is to receive 30 percent of all fees collected, 10 percent goes to Stark County and the final 60 percent to the state for administering the district court.

Belfield still covers prosecutorial costs, as well as any costs pertaining to indigent defendants, transcription costs and any costs related to the transportation and incarceration of defendants.

Having worked with the judge for several years, Belfield's Chief of Police Larry Johnson attempted to sum up his feelings on Stoppleworth's retirement.

"It's been a real pleasure working with the judge," Johnson said. "And it's hard to see him go."

Former Mayor Phil Dolyniuk appointed Stoppleworth to the judgeship in 1985. The judge at the time, Helen Dekowski, was stepping down and Dolyniuk thought Stoppleworth, who sat on the city council, would be a good man for the job.

"I guess I don't know why," Stoppleworth said with a smile. "No one else seemed to want the job."

Stoppleworth resigned from the city council and took the position and has served for the last 23 years.

Initially, Stoppleworth didn't need to know anything beyond the laws of the city in which he sat as judge, but since then a required annual class has been instituted.

During his tenure Stoppleworth has learned a lot and has presided over several cases. The judge said through it all, he made a point of trying to give everyone what he considered was a fair shake.

"There are checks and balances in place," Stoppleworth said. "We've got to make sure that the person's rights are protected, but also that the city is protected."

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