The North Dakota Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of the state Judicial Conduct Commission in its claim that North Central Judicial District Judge Richard L. Hagar had not been keeping up with his caseload as quickly as he should have.
The judge will be suspended for a month without pay beginning April 1 and is assessed a fee of $3,710.49 to pay for the prosecution of the case against him.
Hagar was first called to task in 2012 in the case Judicial Conduct Commission v. Hagar for failing to meet two aspects of the canons governing the work of judges.
One is that a "judge shall hear and decide matters assigned to the judge except those in which disqualification is required," and the other is that a "judge shall dispose of all judicial matters promptly, efficiently and fairly."
Despite Presiding District Judge William McLees removing Hagar from new case assignments for 30 days in order for the judge to bring his case docket current, the commission found that 12 cases had still not been resolved in an adequate amount of time. The commission also found that the delay between trial and decision in those cases ranged from six to 21 months.
Hagar provided the court with a written plan for keeping his docket current.
Eight days after the court's decision in that matter, Hagar took on the divorce case Block v. Block, where both parties had already agreed to the divorce and how to split their shared assets. The only remaining problem, which was the whole issue, was which parent would receive primary custody of their children.
There were repeated requests from the plaintiff's attorney to know how the decision was coming along. After never receiving a response from Hagar's office, the attorney sent a letter to McLees to inform him that a decision had not been made in the case.
After that, Hagar released a decision in the case nearly 10 months after the trial.
The Judicial Conduct Commission then filed formal charges against Hagar and later found that he had violated the canon rules in disposing of his cases up to judicial standards.
"I still cannot excuse, nor justify, my failure to comply with the expected standard regardining diligence and promptness in this case," Hagar had said of the commission's findings.
"Although this proceeding involves an unreasonable delay in only one case as compared to the 12 delays involved in the prior disciplinary proceedings, it occurred in close proximity to Judge Hagar's censure," the court wrote in its ruling. "Judge Hagar's conduct has tarnished the integrity of and respect for the judiciary as evidenced by the refusal of the plaintiff in Block to consider appealing the decision because, according to her attorney, 'by that point she was so absolutely, totally disgusted with the system.'"
The court also wrote that while Hagar has "shown remorse and a willingnees to modify his conduct," he did not meet the standards set forth in his own plan for keeping his docket up to date. The court also recognized that Hagar claims his suspension would put a "burden" on his fellow judges but, as he did not present an alternative punishment, he "cannot escape discipline merely because of its effect on the judicial system and his fellow judges."