In a petition filed Sept. 11, Presiding Judge Gail Hagerty wrote that South Central District judges would like the state’s highest court to terminate the relaxed rules for pro hac vice attorneys not licensed here but authorized to assist with DAPL cases. Hagerty wrote that only active attorneys of record should be allowed to continue, and no new DAPL-related cases are being filed.
“There is no longer any justification for dispensing with the general rules for pro hac vice practice,” Hagerty wrote.
The provisions were adopted in January for out-of-state attorneys to assist DAPL-related defendants while sponsored by a state-licensed attorney.
Andrea Carter, of the Water Protective Legal Collective, said a need still exists for pro hac vice attorneys in DAPL-related cases.
“As of Sept. 11, there were still 159 cases without representation or any appointed counsel. How can the court say that there is not still a need?” Carter said. “We are actively working on taking on cases and filing appearances for these existing 159 unrepresented parties, many of whom both do not qualify for court-appointed counsel and cannot afford to retain a private attorney.”
WPLC is a nonprofit that helps arrange legal counsel for DAPL-related defendants.
“We are not trying to supplant all the appointed counsel and private attorney capacity but rather fill the gaps and unmet needs,” Carter said. “There is no need to proactively set firm and arbitrary deadlines by which these rules and this program will end.”
Hagerty wrote that 11 attorneys of 36 admitted under the provisions have never been attorneys of record.
Attorney Bruce Nestor has been licensed in North Dakota since January, when he began sponsoring several pro hac vice attorneys in cases here. He said the legal system is stacked against the defendants in DAPL-related cases.
“From law enforcement, to the prosecutors to potential jurors, a deep bias and prejudice against anyone who opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline has been evident,” Nestor said. “This petition by the judges in the South Central District is unfortunate because it makes it appear that the judges are also biased against these defendants.”
Nestor added that the pro hac vice provisions have saved North Dakota taxpayers money and ensured fairness.
“Rather than seeking to shut the program down, the program should be praised and expanded,” he said.
Carter also said pro hac vice work has saved taxpayers’ dollars, adding that WPLC attorneys operate pro bono.
Trial court administrator Donna Wunderlich said the judges’ petition came from discussion at a Sept. 7 meeting. All South Central district judges were present except for Sonna Anderson, Bruce Romanick and Thomas Schneider, she added. Nine district judges oversee the South Central Judicial District.
Wunderlich said Monday that 409 DAPL-related criminal cases are now closed, 323 are still open, 99 are inactive with warrants and one is on appeal.
Supreme Court Clerk Penny Miller will accept emailed comments regarding the judges’ petition until 4 p.m. Oct. 2.