Donald Jorgensen, a judge who served 29 years and is remembered for his even temperament, died on Sunday in Bismarck. He was 72.
His wife, Caroleene Jorgensen, said he died at home of natural causes.
Jorgensen grew up in Kenmare, the youngest of seven siblings: all girls, aside from him, according to Caroleene Jorgensen. He went to college and law school at the University of North Dakota, graduating in 1970. After nine months in private practice in Mayville, he was drafted and sent to work as an instructor for intelligence officers at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.
After discharge, he, his wife and first son moved to Dickinson, where he worked as a general practice attorney for 10 years.
"He was always a gentleman, worked very hard for his clients, but always a gentleman," said his former law partner, Al Hardy.
From there, he became a county judge in Dickinson. He was elected as a district judge out of Hettinger in 1984. He served there until 1995, when the state courts were re-organized into a unified system, and he transferred to the South Central District, with chambers first in Linton and then in Mandan. He retired in 2014.
"He was very thoughtful, very thorough, a genuinely good and kind judge," said retired South Central District Judge Bob Wefald, who served on the bench with Jorgensen for 12 years. "He was always even-tempered."
Among the high-profile trials that Jorgensen oversaw was the case of Brandon Keller, accused in a shootout with Bismarck Police officers at a trailer park in 2003. During the incident, Officer Steve Lundin was shot and injured, and Keller's friend, Michael Sherman, was shot and killed by current Police Chief Dan Donlin.
"Clearly, there were a lot of emotions involved in that case," said South Central District Judge Cynthia Feland, who prosecuted Keller as a Burleigh County assistant state's attorney. "He did an excellent job of keeping everybody on track."
Jorgensen also presided over the trial of Leland Ash, the Montana man who, in February 1993, shot Kevin Kern in the head while driving from a party in Lemmon, S.D., to Hettinger, then dragged the body through a field and covered it with snow.
"If he were here, he could tell you every detail," Caroleene Jorgensen said. "It was a very unusual thing to have happened down in a small community like that."
On a smaller scale, Bismarck Attorney Tom Dickson recalled that he once tried an estate case, challenging the distribution of money in a will, before Jorgensen in Emmons County. It was so boring, Dickson's co-counsel bailed midway through the trial.
But Jorgensen would adjourn court each day at 4:30 p.m., so the attorneys could use his office phone to check their work messages. It was 1997, and no one had a cell phone.
"It was just very courteous and thoughtful," Dickson said.
After his retirement, Jorgensen became close friends with Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle. They were members of the same church and monthly bridge club, scheduled to meet Monday night.
VandeWalle recalled that Jorgensen was an active volunteer, driving seniors to their cancer treatments and assisting at the Heritage Center. He loved his grandchildren and was recently woodworking a ship for one of his grandsons.
"It takes a great talent to retire and be happy," he said.
Jorgensen is survived by his wife, Caroleene, children Damon Jorgensen, Heather Campbell and Heidi (Brady) Burgess; and three grandchildren.
A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. on Thursday, March 23 at Church of Corpus Christi, 1919 N. 2nd St. in Bismarck. Visitation will take place from 5 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22, at Parkway Funeral Service, 2330 Tyler Parkway in Bismarck.