Gerald VandeWalle, Class of 1958, Marks 20th Year as North Dakota's Chief Justice
On Tuesday, January 1, 2013, Gerald W. VandeWalle marked twenty years as North Dakota's chief justice. A justice since 1978, he had been unanimously elected in November 1992 to succeed retiring Ralph Erickstad as chief justice.
On July 15, 2012, Chief Justice Gerald W. VandeWalle became the longest serving chief justice in North Dakota history. As of that date, he had served 19 years, 6 months and 11 day, surpassing the record held by former Chief Justice Erickstad (June 20, 1973-December 31, 1992). Chief Justice VandeWalle's tenure on the Court, 34 years on August 15th, is second only to Justice A.M. Christianson's 39-plus years.
The full story about VandeWalle marking his 20th year can be found here.
The Winter 2009 issue of North Dakota Law Magazine featured Chief Justice VandeWalle's service to the state of North Dakota. The full story is below.
Few individuals in North Dakota's history have had as profound an impact on the state as Gerald W. VandeWalle, Chief Justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court. As stated by former Supreme Court Justice and federal appellate judge H. F. "Sparky" Gierke, "Given the quantity and quality of [his] fifty years of service to our state, a very strong case could be made that there is no one who has given more service to our state."
Celebrating a Prolific Man
In proclaiming August 21, 2008, a day "to celebrate the prolific career and service of North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Gerald W. VandeWalle," North Dakota Governor John Hoeven's proclamation noted that 2008 "marks impressive milestones in the career of Chief Justice Gerald W. VandeWalle as he celebrates his 75th birthday, 50 years as a licensed attorney and 30 years of service on the North Dakota Supreme Court," and issued a call encouraging the people of North Dakota "to recognize Justice VandeWalle for his distinguished career in service to the Courts and for the significant impact he has had on North Dakota law and the State's legal system."
Chief Justice VandeWalle is a distinguished member of the law school's Class of 1958, graduating first in his class and serving as Editor-in-Chief of the NORTH DAKOTA LAW REVIEW. He has expressed his gratitude for the legal education he received at UND, saying "I would not be where I am today without it." The character of the school added to the value of the education that he received. "You may not have some of the big course offerings other schools do, but you get that personal attention, and I think sometimes that makes or breaks a student." The faculty "knew who you were, and it was a personal thing. You had pressure to behave and conduct yourself in a certain way."
When asked to compare the law school as it was when he was a student with the school that he sees today, VandeWalle identifies both similarities and differences. "There are similarities. UND Law School provided me with a basic, solid, good education for the time. The Law School today continues to provide that basic, solid, good education. But, it is superior to the one I received, particularly in clinical education, additional course offerings, law school programs and internships and externships. Legal education today is considerably more sophisticated than it was when I attended law school but UND has kept pace and now provides these additional educational experiences which were not part of law school when I attended."
The North Dakota values that are emphasized in our law school – hard work, integrity, responsibility, professionalism – help to shape the practice of law in a positive way. "I believe the quality of the bar and the bench is good," VandeWalle has said, "and that is due, in great part, to the UND Law School and its influence in the state."
A Career of Service to North Dakota and the Nation
A Chief Justice VandeWalle is a native of Noonan, North Dakota. Prior to law school, he earned a bachelor's degree from the UND business school. He attributes his interest in law and in public service to the faculty who taught him at UND. "I had never thought of being a lawyer until after I entered UND," he said. "UND shaped my legal career. I became interested in the legal field as the result of business law classes taught by two wonderful teachers, graduates of the UND Law School. The then Dean of the Law School, Dean [Olaf. H.] Thormodsgard, convinced me to take a one-year appointment to the office of the North Dakota Attorney General when I graduated. I always had an interest in government, much to my father's dismay, and my high school superintendent and UND political science teachers and law school professors honed that interest. I doubt I would have become a lawyer or entered public service without those teachers' and professors' ability to stimulate my interest."
The one-year appointment encouraged by Dean Thormodsgard turned into twenty years in the Attorney General's office, starting as a Special Assistant Attorney General to Attorney General Leslie R. Burgum in 1958, and rising to the position of First Assistant Attorney General for his last three years. At various times during VandeWalle's service in the AG's office, his responsibilities included the portfolios for education, oil and gas, and the state retirement system.
One of the Attorneys General with whom VandeWalle served was Allen I. Olson, who went on to serve as Governor of North Dakota from 1981 to 1984. Comparing the Jerry VandeWalle whom he knew as a student at UND in the 1950s to the person with whom he served in the Attorney General's office beginning in 1973, Governor Olson stated, "My first impression then hasn't changed much over the years. He remains a kind, a scholarly, a thoughtful man who cares first about family, friends and community and then about his State, nation and beyond. Defining these personal commitments has been his respect for the rule of law and its fair and reasonable application."
VandeWalle's thirty-one year judicial career began with his appointment by Governor Arthur A. Link to the North Dakota Supreme Court in August 1978. Less than three months later, he was elected to fill the remainder of that unexpired term. He has subsequently been re-elected to ten-year terms in 1984, 1994, and 2004. He has served as Chief Justice since 1993, being re-elected to that post three times following his initial election as Chief.
The recognition of Chief Justice VandeWalle's leadership ability extends well beyond the borders of North Dakota. He has served as President of the Conference of Chief Justices and as Chair of the National Center for State Courts. In both of those organizations, he has been a strong advocate of ensuring the administration of justice through a healthy and independent judicial system.
He has also been actively engaged with legal education and entry into the legal profession, serving as Chair of the Council of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar in 2001 and 2002. Erica Moeser, the Executive Director of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, describes his role on the Council as bringing "superb diplomatic skills to a fractious body at a very difficult time in its history. He was very effective in carrying out the mission. In all of his national activities he was and remains a great ambassador for North Dakota and he's used his volunteer time and experience to bring home many ideas that have been useful to North Dakota." His connection to contemporary legal education is strengthened by his continued service on ABA accreditation site visit teams. In spite of his busy schedule and the heavy demands of the site visit process, the Chief averages one accreditation visit to law schools every other year.
The Importance of the UND School of Law to North Dakota
As a nationally respected figure in educating and admitting lawyers to practice, Chief Justice VandeWalle is aware of the importance of legal education to the people of this state and convinced of the need for the quality of legal education at the UND School of Law to remain very high. He has noted on many occasions that most of the citizens of North Dakota are going to be served by lawyers who have been educated at UND.
Explaining why it matters that North Dakota continue to support a good law school in this State, VandeWalle has said, "Over ninety percent of the lawyers who actually reside in and practice law in North Dakota are graduates of the UND law school. They are the lawyers who handle the day-to-day human interest legal issues which confront our citizens and, while not ordinarily headline news, deeply affect the individual citizens and their families. Without a good law school in North Dakota I doubt we would have enough lawyers moving to the State or returning to the State after having attended law school out of state to provide those legal services. In addition, while graduates of other law schools who are practicing in the State are fine lawyers and add diversity to the bar, I believe the bar should have a substantial number of lawyers who have been educated in North Dakota, been a part of and readily understand the North Dakota ethos."
Chief Justice's VandeWalle's years of experience in legal education around the country gives him a keen insight into the characteristics of a high quality law school.
"Undoubtedly, in my experience," he believes, "a solid, relatively stable but energetic faculty under an enlightened administration is the number one characteristic. The clinical education programs, other educational experiences and the involvement of the students and their interest in and the level of energy they bring to the law school is a close second and is nearly always tied to the quality of the faculty. Of course we look at bar passage rates and job placement statistics as well. But if a law school possesses the first characteristics, a good faculty and an energized student body, the bar passage rates and the job placement statistics naturally follow. An adequate physical facility and research capabilities are also significant characteristics."
The road ahead for legal education is not without challenges, VandeWalle acknowledges. "The cost of legal education, global issues, including the global practice of law, keeping pace with developments in other professions and disciplines, and the way education, including legal education, is delivered are just a few of the challenges." What will it take to meet those challenges? "Adequate financial and human resources and the will and ability of the administration and faculty to face and keep abreast of the changes which create the challenges." Looking at legal education today, nationally and at UND, he is enthusiastic and optimistic. "It is an exciting time!"