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Published January 07, 2014, 08:05 PM

New Grand Forks district judge officially begins new job

Jon Jensen officially became the newest North Dakota district judge this week in a Grand Forks court room, succeeding Judge Joel Medd who retired Sept. 1 as the longest-serving state district jurist.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

Jon Jensen officially became the newest North Dakota district judge this week in a Grand Forks court room, succeeding Judge Joel Medd who retired Sept. 1 as the longest-serving state district jurist.

Jensen, 48, joins four other judges and two judicial referees/magistrates in the Northeast Central District.

Top state officials, led by Gov. Jack Dalrymple who appointed Jensen in November, attended the investiture ceremony Monday in the Grand Forks County Courthouse.

Jensen began work Dec. 16 on the bench in the district that includes Grand Forks and Nelson counties, joining Judges Lawrence Jahnke, Debbie Kleven, Karen Braaten and Sonja Clapp.

The ceremony also included North Dakota’s Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle and other Supreme Court Justices Dale Sandstrom, Daniel Crothers and Lisa Fair McEvers, the newest justice. McEvers, who began Jan. 2, will have her formal investiture ceremony Jan. 17 in the state Capitol.

Judge Medd, now a surrogate judge for occasional assignments, served as master of ceremonies.

“The large attendance at his investiture demonstrated the respect in the community for Judge Jensen,” Justice Sandstrom said. “He is a worthy successor to my law school classmate, Judge Joel Medd, who was the longest-serving district judge in North Dakota.”

Local roots

Born in Grand Forks, Jensen graduated from Minnesota State University Mankato in 1987 and UND’s law school in 1990. He and his wife, Linda Bata, have been partners in a law firm focusing on tax and business law and estate planning, according to the state Supreme Court website. He previously worked 20 years at the Pearson Christensen & Clapp firm in downtown Grand Forks.

“Jon is an accomplished attorney and highly respected by his peers,” Dalrymple said in appointing Jensen. “He brings to the position a wealth of legal experience and an unwavering commitment to justice and public service.”

In an email Tuesday, Crothers said Jensen “was chosen by the governor from a very well-qualified field to be the district court judge.”

The five finalists last fall included Jason McCarthy, an assistant state’s attorney for Grand Forks County, John Thelen, a judicial referee and magistrate for the district, Lolita Romanick, a Grand Forks attorney and Don Hager, a Larimore, N.D., attorney.

Crothers said Jensen no longer will represent just his clients as an attorney.

“Now, Judge Jensen represents the legal system and the rule of law. The investiture ceremony is important to officially mark and celebrate Jon Jensen’s move between these two very different roles in our system of justice.”

Jensen has been active in Boy Scouts and was a board member of the Grand Forks Public Library.

A 1983 graduate of East Grand Forks Senior High, Jensen said while in high school, his brother Gregg was in law school at UND, which influenced his choice of profession. On Monday, Gregg Jensen helped his brother put on his new black robe.

Jensen told the Herald that the late Ralph Erickstad, when he was chief justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court, told Jensen he chose him as his law clerk because Jensen was an Eagle Scout, like Erickstad.

New Challenge

Much of his work with Pearson Christensen & Clapp was in commercial litigation in courtrooms in North Dakota and Minnesota, and criminal tax litigation, which involved arguing his cases before federal judges in Fargo and St. Paul, Jensen said.

In his first few weeks, Jensen said he’s already found his new position “challenging.”

Jensen’s oath of office was administered by a longtime friend, state District Judge James Hovey of New Rockford, N.D.

Hovey was hired as a law clerk by Jensen and later was his law partner.

“He is a skilled trial attorney with a superb knowledge of court procedures and rules,” Hovey told the Herald in an email.

“Socrates said ‘Four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly and to decide impartially,’” Hovey said. “Jon possesses all four.”

State judges serve six-year terms. As an appointed judge, Jensen will serve at least two years and then stand for re-election in the next election.

The most recent new judge in the Northeast Central District is Sonja Clapp who was elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2010.

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