North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Gerald VandeWalle announces retirement due to health reasons

North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Gerald VandeWalle has announced that he will retire Jan. 31 for health reasons.

VandeWalle, 89, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1978 and served as chief justice from 1993 until 2019, when he did not seek reappointment as chief. He had been the longest-serving chief justice in state history and remains on the court.

VandeWalle announced his decision to Gov. Doug Burgum in a letter Thursday afternoon, Burgum said Friday in a news release. He was reelected to his fourth 10-year term on the state’s high court in 2014. His term will expire in 2024.

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Under state law, the Judicial Nominating Committee must forward a list of nominees to the governor to fill the vacancy.

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VandeWalle was appointed to the Supreme Court in August 1978 and elected to serve an unexpired term in November 1978. He was elected to a full 10-year term in 1984 and reelected in 1994, 2004 and 2014. His current 10-year term expires in 2024.

VandeWalle’s letter said he was privileged to serve North Dakota for more than 60 years but that “recent health challenges have made it increasingly difficult for me to continue to do so.”

Prior to his appointment to the state Supreme Court, VandeWalle worked in the state Attorney General’s office for 20 years.

Burgum called VandeWalle “a towering figure in the legal community and beloved fixture in the halls of the Capitol.” He said VandeWalle “leaves a remarkable and unparalleled legacy of service to which all North Dakotans can aspire.”

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“Jerry,” as he prefers to be called outside the courtroom, grew up on a dairy farm in the tiny town of Noonan and is a University of North Dakota graduate.

As chief justice, he has successfully promoted boosting legal services for thousands of disadvantaged residents who cannot afford a lawyer. He also has advocated for more money to expand special drug courts and more pay for state district judges to retain and attract quality people.

VandeWalle was presented the state’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, in 2015 during a joint session of the Legislature.

VandeWalle has said that he never married because he was “too selfish” about his own career to start a family. He cared for his mother for decades until she died in 2006, at age 102.

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