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NORTH DAKOTA COUNTY OFFICERS
compiled by J. Beltran, Summer 2008

Note: Items in parentheses refer to Sources listed at the end .

Counties: North Dakota has 53 relatively small counties because most were set up prior to statehood and before modern travel was available. County seats had to be located as close to county residents as possible. The county does not enact laws; it administers state Constitutional and legislative law. These include preserving the peace, collecting local, county, and state taxes, providing social services, registering land titles, building roads and bridges, issuing various licenses, enforcing health regulations, distributing deceased persons’ property, and overseeing the election system. Below is the list of county officers who send materials to the state archivist for preservation and their duties relating to that charge, as well as relevant changes since 1889. Since statehood population changes have led to some realignment of county offices (Leifur; ND Assn. of Counties).
History: The only county officers mentioned in the Organic Act were district judges, probate judges, justices of the peace, and clerks of court (1861 Organic Act, D.T. §9). The state Constitution and further legislation named additional officers. Dakota Territory counties in existence at statehood were declared ND counties (1889 Constitution, Art. X, §166). Offices had two year term limits until most changed in 1959 (S.L. 1959, ch. 435; S.L. 1957, ch. 401) and remainder in 1963 (S.L. 1963, ch. 447).

County Officer Title & History: Auditor

History, Creation, & Operation: established in 1889 Constitution, Art. X, §173.

Official Duties: Chief clerk & bookkeeper: reviews other officers’ accounts, prepares financial statements & annual budget, draws warrants on the county treasury, and is official documents custodian (Leifur); prepares tax lists and other information for tax levying and collection, is chief county election officer (Omdahl), secretary to board of county commissioners (North Dakota Association of Counties, Auditors Association) (1997 S.L. 58-02-31); preserves, numbers and indexes, and enters in reception book all documents and other papers, keeps all necessary board of county commissioner books, delivers all documents and other papers to successor (NDCC 11-13-02); notifies state auditor if any township in the county is dissolved (1997 S.L. 58-02-31); keeps tax and deed records, prepares and records school district plats (NDCC 11-13-07); for consolidated counties adds duties of recorder and clerk of district court and others assigned by county commissioners (NDCC 11-13-11).

County Officer and History: Clerk of District Court

History, Creation, and Operation: Established by 1861 Organic Act, D.T. §9; listed in 1889 Constitution, Art. X, §173; consolidated offices of county judge and clerk of court in counties of < 6,000 population. (S.L. 1925, p. 329; S.L. 1923, ch. 177); 1935: consolidated county judge and clerk of court counties of <15,000 and combine register of deeds, county judge, and clerk of court in counties of <6,000 population. (S.L. 1935, p. 494; S.L. 1933, ch. 84); 1995: county courts abolished and trial courts unified into seven judicial districts, but clerks of court may be either paid by county or be part of state judicial system (S.L. 1991, ch. 326).

Official Duties: Is records custodian of district court, county courts of increased jurisdiction before 1995 (www.ndaco.org), alien naturalization; draws jury panel names for trials and records all juror and witness names (Leifur; ); attends all district court sessions and keeps minutes of daily proceedings, issues necessary process and notices (Omdahl; repealed by S.L. 1999, ch. 278, §§ 81, 82). Find in S.L.

County Officer Title and History: Treasurer

History, Creation, and Operation: Listed in 1889 Constitution, Art. X, §173.

Official Duties: Receives and pays out all county money (Leifur); keeps account of all tax money in proper books and records (NDCC 11-14-08); acts as school district treasurer if office is vacant (Omdahl).

County Officer Title and History: Sheriff

History, Creation, and Operation: Listed in 1889 Constitution, Art. X, §173; legislature created appointed office state sheriff; county sheriffs also state constabulary (Sp. S.L. 1921, p. 252; Sp. S.L. 1919 ch. 56); elected position (citation?).

Official Duties: Preserves county peace and order, administers county jail, serves civil and criminal court papers, carries out district court judge’s orders, holds property foreclosure sales, collects taxes, may replace policemen in small cities (Leifur; Omdahl; NDCC 11-15-03).

County Officer Title and History: County Judge

History, Creation, and Operation: 1861 Organic Act, D.T. §9 established probate courts and justices of the peace; 1889 Constitution, Art. IV, §85, §§110-111 provided for county courts and justices of the peace and legislative jurisidiction; consolidated offices of county judge and clerk of court in counties of < 6,000 population. (S.L. 1925 p. 329; S.L. 1923, ch. 177); consolidated county judge and clerk of court counties of <15,000 and combine register of deeds, county judge, and clerk of court in counties of <6,000 population. (S.L. 1935, p. 494; S.L. 1933, ch. 84); 1959 Justice Court Act: abolished justice of peace courts, created office of county justice for small claims, and binding over felony suspects for trial, hears misdemeanor cases (Omdahl); 1.6.1983 combined courts within a county (Omdahl; earlier legislation repealed by S.L. 1981, ch. 319, §51, effective 1.1.1983); 1995: county courts abolished, provided for election of additional district court judges and case file transition (S.L. 1991, ch. 326/NDCC 27-05-00.1)

Official Duties: Probate and testamentary matters, appointment of administrators and guardians, settlement of accounts and sales of land by executors, administrators, and guardians. For county courts of increased jurisdiction, in >2,000 population counties, concurrent civil case jurisdiction >$1,000 and criminal cases less than felonies with district court; misdemeanor cases moved from police magistrate court to increased jurisdiction court. (1889 Constitution, Art. IV, §111).
Justices of the Peace: civil action cases of <$1,000, criminal action cases below felony grade, and misdemeanors if no police magistrate; presiding judge of county court, probates wills, oversees property title changes and records, issues marriage licenses, performs marriage ceremonies, is ex-officio chair of insanity commission (Leifur)

County Officer Title and History: Superintendent of Schools

History, Creation, and Operation: Established in 1889 Constitution, Art. VIII, §150. 1967: allowed one superintendent to head two or more counties (S.L. 1967, ch. 509; S.L. 1965, ch. 485); S.L.1999, ch. 196, §17 repealed NDCC ch. 15-22, county supt. of schools

Official Duties: Left to legislative law in 1889 Constitution. Is DPI agent, collects school statistics and reports from school districts, preserves all necessary records and passes them on to successor, administrator of mostly rural schools: visits schools, advises teachers, assists at teacher institutes, carries out DPI directives, meets with school officers (Leifur; Omdahl; NDCC 15.1-11-04; NDCC 15.1-11-05).

County Officer Title and History: State’s Attorney

History, Creation, and Operation: Established in 1889 Constitution, Art. X, §173.

Official Duties: Left to legislative law in 1889 Constitution; advises county, township, and school district officials re: state laws, conducts county investigations and lawsuits, prosecutes state law violators (Leifur); attends and advises at grand jury hearings, is county commissioners’ legal adviser (ND Township Officers Assn.); keeps a register of all official business (NDCC 11-16-01; repealed by S.L. 1945, ch. 161, §1 ?).

County Officer Title and History: Coroner

History, Creation, and Operation:

Official Duties: NDCC Ch. 11-19. Holds inquests in cases of suspicious deaths and if necessary, appoints a three person jury to investigate (Leifur); in absence of sheriff acts as sheriff (ND Township Officers Assn.)

Medical County Coroner Duties: NDCC 11-19.08

Country Officer Title and History: Register of Deeds/Recorder

History, Creation, and Operation: Established as register of deed in 1889 Constitution, Art. X, §173; 1935: consolidated county judge and clerk of court counties of <15,000 and combine register of deeds, county judge, and clerk of court in counties of <6,000 population (S.L. 1935, p. 494; S.L. 1933, ch. 84); title changed to recorder (NDCC: 11.18-.01.1); official duties assigned by legislative law.

Official Duties: Keeps records of all legal documents, e.g., deeds and mortgages, and accurately records them (Leifur; NDCC 11-18-01)


SOURCES:

Leifur, Conrad W., Our State North Dakota. New York: American Book Company, 1958.

North Dakota Association of Counties (www.ndaco.org)

North Dakota Centennial Blue Book 1889-1989

North Dakota Century Code

North Dakota Blue Book 1907 contains 1861 Organic Act, D.T. §9 and 1889 North Dakota Constitution

North Dakota Blue Book 2001-20003 contains 1999 legislature’s changes for clerk of court

North Dakota Century Code (www.legis.nd.gov/information/statutes/cent-code.html)

North Dakota League of Cities (www.ndlc.org)

North Dakota Township Officers Association (www.ndtoa.com)

Omdahl, Lloyd B., 1987-89 Governing North Dakota and The Constitution of North Dakota. Grand Forks, ND: Bureau of Governmental Affairs University of North Dakota, 1987.

Omdahl, Lloyd B., 1993-95 Governing North Dakota and The Constitution of North Dakota. Grand Forks, ND: Bureau of Governmental Affairs University of North Dakota, 1993.

Omdahl, Lloyd B. and Boyd L. Wright, 1975-1977 Governing North Dakota. Grand Forks, ND: Bureau of Governmental Affairs University of North Dakota, 1975.

 

Vital Records: Births, Deaths, Marriages

 

Related Records

 

Other Records

 

Tax Records

 

Offices and Their Records

 

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