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The North Dakota nonagenarian judge who is admired by politicians from both parties

"Did You Know That" columnist Curt Eriksmoen begins the story of Richard Goldberg.

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Judge Richard Goldberg, seen here in September 2019, points himself out in a photo taken in the White House with President Ronald Reagan that hangs on the wall in his home in Detroit Lakes, Minn.
Forum file photo

FARGO — At the age of 94, Richard Goldberg, from Fargo, is the oldest serving judge on the U.S. Court of International Trade.

He was nominated to serve on that court by President George H.W. Bush on Jan. 8, 1991, and was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 25. The chair of the judiciary committee who oversaw his unanimous approval through the upper chamber was then-Sen. Joseph Biden.

The two senators who spoke on Goldberg’s behalf were Kent Conrad and Quentin Burdick. All three U.S. Senators were Democrats and Goldberg was a lifelong Republican.

Prior to his appointment to a federal judgeship, Goldberg was president and CEO of a large feed and seed company in West Fargo, served eight years in the North Dakota Senate, and was a senior policy adviser on international agricultural free trade agreements for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

He should not be confused with the Richard Goldberg who was one of President Donald Trump’s national security advisers.

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Richard Wayne Goldberg was born Sept. 23, 1927, to Jacob and Frances (Gilles) Goldberg, in Fargo, where his family was actively involved in the feed and seed business. When Richard’s father was 19 and his uncle Max was 21, the two young brothers ended up taking over the Goldberg Seed and Feed Co. after the death of their father, Isadore, in 1915.

Isadore and his family immigrated from Lithuania and settled in Fargo where he established his feed company in 1905. The two brothers grew their business so that by the 1930s, the company “was said to be the largest handler, processor, and distributor of sweet clover, legume, and grass seed in the nation.”

Richard graduated from high school in 1945 and attended the North Dakota Agricultural College (now NDSU) in Fargo for his freshman year. He then transferred to the University of Miami where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1950 and his law degree in 1952.

Richard then moved back to North Dakota and was hired by his uncle, Max Goldberg, president of Goldena Mills (now Cenex Harvest States) in West Fargo, to be a “management trainee and in-house counsel.”

In 1953, Richard Goldberg was contacted by Lee Brooks to be an associate at his Fargo law firm and to be his assistant state's attorney for Cass County. In the early 1930s, Brooks had served as an assistant to the famous lawyer Clarence Darrow, and in 1949 he was elected state's attorney for Cass County.

Brooks was planning on running for the state Legislature and needed assistance in both his private practice and his position as state's attorney. In his private practice, Brooks “specialized in Interstate Commerce law,” and Goldberg’s experience in working with him on these types of cases would later prove to be invaluable.

From December 1953 to August 1956, Goldberg served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG). During those years, he was stationed at the Maxwell Air Base in Alabama, Pope Air Base in North Carolina, Shaw Air Base in South Carolina and Thule Air Base in Greenland.

As a JAG officer, he “tried or defended over 300 cases before military courts for both the Army and the Air Force.” In the Air Force Reserves, Goldberg was promoted to captain and was subject to callback until his discharge in 1965.

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In 1956, Goldberg joined the law firm of Leasure and Scheurer in Washington, D.C., a firm that specialized in “airline and communication administrative law,” focusing primarily on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Civil Aeronautics Board. Goldberg wrote that his work “included the preparation of memos, legal opinions, and briefs for administrative hearings and court appeals.”

In 1957, Goldberg became an attorney adviser for the FCC where he “drafted legal memorandum opinions and final decisions for the commission.”

In 1959, Goldberg resigned from the FCC and returned to North Dakota to assist his father, Jacob Goldberg, in the operation of the Goldberg Feed and Grain Co., now located in West Fargo. Jacob was 63 years old and wanted to spend the winters in Florida. Since the operation of the company required someone to remain in North Dakota all year, Richard was the logical person to run the company in Jacob’s absence.

Richard’s legal background and experience proved to be beneficial to the company. He drafted or reviewed all of the company’s contracts and represented the company before the National Labor Relations Board, the North Dakota Public Service Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission, the state Legislature, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and “made numerous appearances in (Cass) County Court.” Richard also provided legal representation for the company’s international grain deals.

As busy as Richard was in providing all of the legal oversight for the Goldberg Feed and Grain Co., he found time to teach military law at NDSU, serve as president of the West Fargo Chamber of Commerce and take on the position of director of the National Grain and Feed Association.

Richard also became involved in politics. In 1962, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, but when he ran for a Senate seat in the North Dakota Legislature in 1966, he was elected. Richard was reelected in 1970, and during the eight years he was in the Llegislature, he “sponsored over a hundred pieces of legislation relating to banking, insurance, product liability, transportation, and municipal legislation for the city of Fargo.”

Richard’s father, Jacob Goldberg, died Dec. 21, 1969, and Richard became president and CEO of the company and served in that capacity until Aug. 1, 1983, when President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the position of Acting and Deputy Undersecretary of International Affairs and Commodity Programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While campaigning for the presidency, one of Reagan’s pledges was the enactment of a free trade agreement with Canada. In his appointed position, Richard Goldberg was the senior policy official within the Agriculture Department “for international trade matters involving agriculture.”

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He first worked on an international free trade agreement with Canada and, under President George H. W. Bush, Richard worked on free trade agreements with Mexico, several European countries, the USSR, Taiwan, India, Japan, and South Korea.

We will conclude the story of Richard Goldberg next week.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@gmail.com.

Related Topics: HISTORYNORTH DAKOTA
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