Is there racial, ethnic bias in North Dakota courts?

Mike Bellmore, Features Editor

Does racial and ethnic bias exist in North Dakota courts?

That’s what the North Dakota Supreme Court wants to know.

A couple of local, familiar names have been named to a commission studying racial and ethnic bias in North Dakota courts.

District Judge Donovan Foughty of Devils Lake and Erich Longie of Fort Totten are members of the commission that will hold hearings Sept. 27 at Cankdeska Cikana Community College at Spirit Lake and Sept. 28 at Turtle?Lake Community College in Belcourt.

The Spirit Lake meeting will run from 1-4:15 p.m. in Room 104 at the college, and from 2-5 p.m. in the auditorium in Belcourt.

The commission is comprised of  25 people from different walks of life who will be receiving input from minorities on how race and prejudice is perceived in the state courts.

“We’re trying to do justice for minorities,” says Foughty. “We’ll be going to several different cities for hearings.”

The idea is to gauge possible bias and racism in the courts, and Longie believes there is.

“Based on my own personal experience, yes, I think there is,” he states.

“This is a noble effort on the part of the Supreme Court, and any attempt to correct it is past due.”

Longie said there will be confidentiality for those who testify before the commission in an attempt to provide input on possible injustices.

The commission will be comprised of concerned citizens, North Dakota Supreme Court justices, district court judges and attorneys practicing throughout the state.

“I think there is good representation on the commission,” Foughty stated.

Everyone, especially Native American and other minority groups, are welcome to attend.

Participants will not be required to share names or other personal information if they desire to remain anonymous.

The commission will provide staff contact information for those wishing to submit anonymous written testimony rather than testifying in person.

The commission is eager to seek perceptions and experiences within the system, and the meetings are a vital component in the commission’s overall goal to improve the court system by ensuring fairness and justice throughout all court processes.

The commission will be looking for bias experienced or witnessed during jury service, or during jury selection,  or toward someone acting as a witness or a defendant in a court proceding, different treatment of racial minorities by attorneys, judges or court personnel.

The commission will be attempting to identify areas where there is a perception of unfairness based on race, ethnicity or minority status.

Foughty has been appointed to be co-chair of the commission.

The commission does not have the final say in solutions, but will provide recommendations to the Supreme Court.

For more information contact Andrew Frank at afrank@ndcourts.gov.

Local men named to commission to 
hear testimony of possible court bias.