FARGO — Elections can be like trials, exciting events filled with suspense that builds around a single question: "Who will win?"

Reid Brady's bid to become a district court judge in November's election carries with it no such drama.

The longtime prosecutor with the Cass County State's Attorney's Office is the lone candidate to fill the East Central District Court judgeship now held by Frank Racek, who is retiring.

One of the more typical routes for someone to become a district court judge in North Dakota is to apply for a governor's appointment when a court seat becomes vacant due to something like a retirement.

Once appointed, it is rare for a judge to face an opponent in subsequent elections.

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Running unopposed to gain a district court judgeship, as Brady is doing, is a rare occurrence, but not unprecedented, according to Racek, who was a county court judge in 1994 when he ran unopposed to become a district court judge during a time when county and district courts were being consolidated.

Frank Racek is retiring from his long-held position as a Cass County District Court judge. Forum file photo.
Frank Racek is retiring from his long-held position as a Cass County District Court judge. Forum file photo.

Racek said two other county court judges ran unopposed to become district court judges the same year, including Ralph Erickson, who is now a federal appeals court judge, and Georgia Dawson, who retired as a district court judge in 2010.

Racek said that since the mid-1990s, the only instance he could recall of someone running unopposed to gain a district court judgeship occurred in 2018, when Bismarck attorney Daniel Borgen ran unopposed to fill the judgeship of South Central District Court Judge Bruce Haskell, who chose not to run for re-election.

Prior to being elected a judge, Borgen gained public attention when he defended William Hoehn during Hoehn's trial in Cass County on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Savannah LaFontaine-Greywind, who was pregnant when she was killed and her baby was cut from her womb in 2017.

A jury acquitted Hoehn on the conspiracy to commit murder charge, but he pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping involving LaFontaine-Greywind's child, who survived the ordeal.

Hoehn is serving a 20-year sentence on the kidnapping charge.

When Borgen filed candidacy papers to run for the judgeship Haskell was vacating and it became clear no other candidates would emerge, Judge Haskell publicly expressed disappointment that more candidates did not step forward to fill such an important position.

Judge Racek said he doesn't know why Brady is the only candidate running to fill the judgeship he will be vacating when he retires, but he said given the choice between running for election to be a judge or being appointed, the appointment process may be the less daunting option for a private attorney.

"It's a different process for them than when they can just submit an application and see if they get appointed or not, which is a much shorter time frame and you're not campaigning for election," Racek said.

Fargo attorney Brian Toay agreed.

"Running for office is a lot different than trying to get an appointment by the governor. It certainly puts you out there a lot more if it ends up being a contested race. I think most attorneys would want to avoid having to deal with that throughout the fall," Toay said.

Toay added that Brady let it be known through social media that he was running for the judgeship and he said that might be one reason other lawyers didn't file.

"I think he's a great candidate," Toay said, referring to Brady, adding that becoming a judge is an idea many lawyers probably mull over.

"I think it's always in the back of an attorney's mind as a possibility. A lot of people look at that as something to aspire to later in their career," Toay said.

Reid Brady, an assistant Cass County state's attorney, is a candidate for district court judge. David Samson / The Forum
Reid Brady, an assistant Cass County state's attorney, is a candidate for district court judge. David Samson / The Forum

Brady said he wasn't necessarily focused on becoming a judge when he graduated from the University of North Dakota with a law degree, but he did try for an appointment a few years ago when there was an opening on the state appellate court.

Brady has worked at the Cass County State's Attorney's Office since 2004 and before that worked at the North Dakota Attorney General's Office in the agency's civil litigation division.

After graduating from law school and before joining the attorney general's office, he clerked for a time for former North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Carol Kapsner.

Brady described his time with the state's attorney's office and working for Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick as a great experience.

"Birch is a great boss and gives us both guidance and the independence to make decisions on cases; his overall plan is basically to do the right thing and sometimes that is one thing at the start of a case and a different thing at the end of a case, because of new information," Brady said.

Brady said he believes the insights he has gained from Burdick's guidance would serve him well as a judge.

"I would look forward, assuming I'm elected, to serve in that neutral spot and to be reasonable and objective and to be open-minded to hear both sides," Brady said.