Hon. Mark Rasmuson, UND Law '68, Servant of Municipal Court
"Please rise. Municipal Court is now in session, the honorable Judge Rasmuson presiding."
Those words were first heard in Minot Municipal Court in 1974. That’s when Mark Rasmuson began his first term as Municipal Court judge, a position he serves today. As judge he oversees operation of a court in which offenders are charged with everything from minor infractions to misdemeanors.
“It’s interesting. There’s never a dull day,” said Rasmuson. “There’s always something new.”
Common violations heard by Rasmuson include traffic offenses, petty theft and the like, virtually anything below the level of a felony. Mandatory fines are often levied.
“I don’t have much discretion,” explained Rasmuson. “There’s a lot of mandatory sentences in both traffic and criminal violations like driving under the influence and driving under suspension. Hopefully people learn from their experiences in court.”
Imposing fines is one thing. Collecting them is another. It’s just not always possible. Rasmuson recalls one instance in which he knew almost immediately that a person appearing before him would not be making payment.
“I had an illegal alien in court charged with DUI. I sentenced him and there was a border agent right outside the door. He was taking him on a plane to fly him back to Central America,” recalled Rasmuson. “I knew we’d never collect that fine.”
Rasmuson’s journey to the bench started with two years of pre-engineering studies at Minot State University. He then transferred to North Dakota State University where a business law class got him interested in becoming an attorney. He pursued a law degree at the University of North Dakota from 1965-68.
“I didn’t go to law school to be a lawyer,” said Rasmuson. “I figured I could go into business or government or something else. In the second year of law school attorney Moody Farhart (Minot) offered me a kind of internship for the summer. I did that and enjoyed that. When I graduated I had a job as a practicing attorney.”
From 1974 to 1982 Rasmuson also served as Minot’s Municipal Court judge, serving a series of four-year elected terms. Municipal Court at that time was held Monday and Tuesday nights and mornings Wednesday through Friday.
“I got tired of those hours so I quit,” said Rasmuson. “During the four years I was gone they switched to all daytime so I ran again.”
In 1986 Rasmuson returned to the bench, a position he held until 2010. In 2014 he was once again elected to serve.
“I enjoy it. It’s only part time as municipal judge, so I still get to practice law. I’ve always enjoyed that,” said Rasmuson.
Mention sports to Rasmuson and you’ll quickly grab his undivided attention. He’s a big sports enthusiast, particularly baseball.
“I’m a Dodgers and Cleveland fan,” said Rasmuson. “From 1953-55 I still have my baseball cards from then. Cleveland lost the ’54 series to Willie Mays and the Giants. Mays made that famous catch off Vic Wertz. My Dodgers finally won in ’55 with Johnny Padres and Don Newcombe.”
Rasmuson likes to travel in his spare time too, usually with a sporting event in mind. He’s done something not many have accomplished, a visit to all 30 major league ballparks. On top of that he’s had some memorable moments during baseball’s spring training season, including an encounter with a pitcher considered by many as one of the top lefthanders in major league history.
“One spring training trip I got Sandy Koufax to autograph his rookie card. I’m proud of that,” said Rasmuson. “I caught him outside of the ballpark during spring training in Florida. He doesn’t sign very often and I think he charges $700 to sign.”
Other travels took Rasmuson to NCAA final four basketball tournaments, the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984 and the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, in 1988. Then there were trips to Super Bowls XXI and XXII in 1987 and 1988.
“At the Pasadena Rose Bowl in ’87 the New York Giants beat Denver and coach Parcells got doused with Gatorade. I think that was the first time for that,” said Rasmuson. “In ’88 John Elway of the Broncos threw a touchdown pass on the first play against my Redskins. On the second possession Denver got a field goal and went up 10-0. I thought, uh oh, this doesn’t look good.”
With Rasmuson cheering them on the Redskins rallied quickly, scoring four times in the second quarter enroute to a 42-10 victory.
During his time as municipal judge Rasmuson has served in five different courtrooms. His first municipal court was held in the Police Department.
“Later we moved to a two-stall garage on the north end, then to the City Auditorium main floor,”recalled Rasmuson. “After the 2011 flood we moved to the basement of the City Library and now we’re on the lower west portion of the auditorium.”
During Rasmuson’s early years at Municipal Court there were a number of cases involving underage smoking. Rasmuson said he didn’t feel comfortable handling smoking violations involving juveniles, some as young as 14, who he believed belonged in Juvenile Court. He took action to change to procedure.
“I talked to the legislature the next session and got them to change it,” said Rasmuson. “They changed it from a crime to an infraction so there was no jail sentence.”
Away from Municipal Court Rasmuson concentrates on general practice. He considers himself a family lawyer, often dealing with estates and wills. As for serving as municipal judge, Rasmuson shows no signs of stepping away anytime soon. He is up for re-election in 2018.
“I’ll go as long as I can,” remarked Rasmuson. “I’m still having fun.”