A third judge will soon be chambered at the Becker County Courthouse as part of a new “judge unit” position recently approved by the Minnesota Legislature.
Mike Fritz is a Detroit Lakes native who served as Becker County Attorney and is currently a district judge chambered in Moorhead.
Fritz will split his time between Becker County and Otter Tail County, according to District Judge Jay Carlson, who is chambered in Detroit Lakes and also serves as the chief judge of the Seventh Judicial District.
“It’s not just a judge, it’s also a law clerk, a court reporter, and probably additional court administration staff,” Carlson said. That’s why each judge unit is funded at about $500,000, he said.
“The request from the judicial branch was for two judge units, both in the Seventh judicial district,” Carlson said. “There’s a greater need in Clay, Becker and Otter Tail counties than anywhere else in the state.”
Due mostly to retirements, about a dozen judgeships have had to be filled in the seventh district since Carlson became chief judge about two years ago, “so we really needed some help here,” he said.
The Seventh Judicial District encompasses the counties of Becker, Otter Tail, Wadena, Clay, Douglas, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Stearns, Todd and Benton.
The Legislature balked at creating a second new judge unit, but the Minnesota Supreme Court stepped up to authorize the next best thing, Carlson said: a judicial referee. The referee will help resolve things such as family law cases, landlord-tenant disputes, and harassment restraining orders, said Becker County Attorney Brian McDonald.
The referee (who has not yet been hired) will be authorized to make a legal determination on a case. “They’re used all the time in the bigger counties,” McDonald said.
They are required to be an attorney, although not necessarily a Minnesota resident, and earn 90% of a district judge’s pay, Carlson said.
The judicial referee will work four days a week in Clay County and the rest of the time alternating between Becker and Otter Tail counties, he added.
Fritz will be replaced in Clay County by newly appointed judge Jade Rosenfeldt, and will likely start hearing Becker and Otter Tail county cases in early November. He is being assigned cases in both counties already, Carlson said. The judicial referee may be hired and working as early as December.