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Fargo's two judicial referee posts won't be cut as proposed

FARGO -- North Dakota's court system has decided not to eliminate Fargo's two judicial referee positions, but 56 other jobs will be cut statewide, state court administrator Sally Holewa said.

Cass County Courthouse in downtown Fargo. David Samson / The Forum
Cass County Courthouse in downtown Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO - North Dakota's court system has decided not to eliminate Fargo's two judicial referee positions, but 56 other jobs will be cut statewide, state court administrator Sally Holewa said.

Officials in the East Central Judicial District, which covers Cass, Steele and Traill counties, said last month that they had suggested slashing both of Fargo's referee positions after being asked to submit budget-trimming proposals to state court leaders.

But last week, Holewa said the state Supreme Court opted to preserve the judicial referee jobs here to protect the court system's main constitutional function of deciding cases.

Judicial referees, also known as magistrates, fill the role of judges in juvenile, child support, paternity, foster care, small claims and traffic cases. The two referees based in Fargo are Scott Griffeth and Susan Solheim.

Among the 56 jobs being eliminated, seven are in the East Central Judicial District: three deputy clerks, two scheduling clerks, one law clerk and one part-time juvenile court secretary, Holewa said.

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She said the job cuts, which go into effect at the end of June, will result in slower processing of cases and longer wait times for the public at court offices.

"There are going to be significant disruptions and delays in service," she said.

The cuts followed Gov. Jack Dalrymple's order for state agencies to slice 10 percent from their budgets amid a drop in tax revenues due to slumping oil and farm commodity prices.

As a separate branch of state government, Holewa said, the court system sets its own budget, but still tried to heed the governor's call for austerity. In the end, the court system trimmed 7.6 percent from its budget rather than 10 percent, she said.

"A cut that deep would affect our ability to actually provide the services that we need to," she said of a 10 percent reduction.

The 7.6 percent cut amounts to $8.2 million of the court system's $108 million budget. And the 56 positions eliminated represent 16 percent of the workforce, she said.

Along with the two Fargo referee positions, the one in Minot and the two in Bismarck were spared. But the referee position in Grand Forks and the one in Bottineau are slated for elimination by year's end as a result of cuts legislators made during a special session in August, Holewa said.

Related Topics: CASS COUNTY
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