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Solid as Stiel: New judge takes district court bench

Retired North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Dale Sandsrom swears in Stephannie Stiel as Judge of East Central Judicial District Court during Stiel's investiture ceremony Monday, March 5. at Cass County Courthouse. Kim Hyatt / The Forum

FARGO — Presiding Judge Frank Racek said he has been a part of many investiture in his tenure, but Monday, March 5, was for a new judge with "the most solid name we've ever had."

Stephannie N. Stiel (pronounced "steel") officially took the bench at East Central Judicial District Court Monday in front of her husband, Thomas, four children, parents, new and old colleagues, neighbors and justices.

"I'm honored and humbled today that everyone could come out and be a part of this and share this special day with me," Stiel said.

Stiel, 39, was appointed to judgeship by Gov. Doug Burgum in December and started the role in February to fill a vacancy following the resignation of Judge Norman Anderson. Her new venture kicked off with a 7-day jury trial, and so far in the first month as new district judge, she said she's had over 100 hearings and court appearances.

"That's the best way to learn is to jump right in," she said.

Stiel was a judicial law clerk for the North Dakota Supreme Court from Aug. 2003 to July 2004, working closely with now-retired Justice Dale Sandstrom, who shared at the ceremony one of his most memorable experiences: Stiel's firstborn, Matthew, who would come with her to work before she moved onto becoming a shareholder at Conmy Feste Ltd. in Fargo.

Sandstrom said the investiture is a symbolic event, marking the shift from lawyer and advocate to impartial judge.

"We wish you well as you pursue your greater goals," he said to Stiel.

Many speaking at the ceremony commented on Stiel's ability to balance work and home and willingness to go above and beyond roles as lawyer and mother of four. One colleague shared when Stiel's daughter Sophia developed a hearing loss, Stiel founded the North Dakota chapter of Hands & Voices, an organization for supporting families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

During the ceremony, her daughter Evelyn held Stiel's new gavel presented by the State Bar Association of North Dakota. Her robe was presented by husband Thomas.

Stiel grew up in Aberdeen, S.D., and lives in West Fargo with her family. She graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2000. She attended the University of North Dakota School of Law, graduating with distinction in May 2003.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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