The State Must Take the Policing for Profit Incentive Away From North Dakota’s Cities

The Fargo Municipal Court opened in 2010 at at 402 NP Ave., the former site of the Greyhound Bus terminal. Heidi Shaffer/The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — “I saw your article about municipal judges,” a reader emailed me recently.

“It was very interesting and timely,” she continued. “The city of Horace recently announced they were hiring a municipal judge. Horace is a town of 3,000 people. Hard to understand why they felt they needed a municipal judge to hear, I assume, contested parking and speeding tickets?”

It’s a good question. I can’t speak to what’s guiding the city leaders in Horace (fun fact: the city was named after newspaperman Horace Greeley, he of “go west, young man” fame), but when it comes to municipal courts in North Dakota, I would never discount profit as a motivation.

The way municipal courts are constituted in North Dakota is already deeply problematic. Of the state’s 75 municipal judges, only 19 have formal legal training. The process for appealing the judgments made by these people is so narrow as to be almost nonexistent, and record-keeping from city to city is haphazard, at best.

So what’s the point?

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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