April 1, 2014

Buried under pending court cases

By Stephanie Norman
Farmer Staff Writer

After two months on the job, McKenzie County State’s Attorney Jake Rodenbiker has gotten a full taste of what life is like in the Bakken.
As the enormous stack of case-loads continues to grow, the three-person staff in the State’s Attorney office has remained the same. There are roughly 1,800 cases that need to be handled, some of which have not received attention since early 2013, according to Rodenbiker.
The McKenzie County Commissioners recently approved Rodenbiker’s request to hire an Assistant State’s Attorney, as well as an additional legal secretary and a temporary intern law clerk.
“We are tight on space right now because of the remodel of the courthouse,” Rodenbiker said. “But when push comes to shove, I’m not going to let space be the reason we don’t get more staffing when need be.”
Along with Rodenbiker, there is Sharon Lane, a legal assistant, and Silvia Jacobs, a legal secretary, in the State’s Attorney office.
“Both of my staff work overtime,” Rodenbiker said. “They go home thinking about work as much as I do. I would like for them to be able to work a normal shift, and with the help of more employees, that could happen. They should be able to enjoy their time off.”
By hiring an assistant attorney, the caseload would be divided between the two, but would still be roughly 900 cases each. And an additional legal assistant would allow the staff to disperse the work load.
“The running number of cases for this year is on target to meet or exceed the cases filed in 2013,” Rodenbiker said. “We have seen a significant progress in trying to resolve cases, but adding additional staff will help us get to a place where we can breathe. I can’t imagine how frenzied it must have been with only a part-time attorney before.”
Essentially, it’s the county’s tax dollars that will be paying the salary of the new assistant attorney. Rodenbiker said he is being cautious with where he asks to spend money.
“It’s the public’s money that makes it possible to hire additional staff,” Rodenbiker said. “So if we can get by with one or two more staff, then great. I am being mindful in spending the public’s money. The idea is to hire one more full-time attorney and see how effective two attorneys are.”
Rodenbiker said he has received several applications for the assistant attorney and legal secretary positions. He hopes to begin interviewing in early April. As far as the intern position goes, he has spread the word to many law schools in the region for last year law students.
He is hoping that by August he will have a better picture as to the direction the caseload is headed, and know if even more staff is needed or if they are stable.
“As someone who is asking the residents of the county to elect me for office, I expect to fully hold up all of the duties of my office,” Rodenbiker said. “The prime objective is to bring the criminal docket under control and solve crime cases. I do everything 100 percent in the public’s interest and make sure justice is served.”
Rodenbiker said he has enjoyed his time here thus far, although “it has been busier than expected, it’s been better than expected.”