The State Bar Association of North Dakota Fall 2014 Gavel Magazine - Page 28

NEARING RETIREMENT, KAREN KLEIN LOOKS BACK ON 30 YEARS AS A FEDERAL MAGISTRATE JUDGE One general change Klein has observed over the years is a greater emphasis on active case management in the court. “This is different from judicial activism, but both practice and procedure rules have demanded more oversight to move cases along quickly and inexpensively,” she says. “It has brought mixed results, which are sometimes good and sometimes just cause more time and expense.” United States Magistrate Judge Karen Klein is retiring in January from what was a newly created position for the U.S. District Court of North Dakota in 1985. In the past 30 years, she has helped define the role of magistrate judges. She has also made a significant contribution toward training judges in mediation and other legal issues in the country and around the world. “It was interesting when I started this job in 1985,” Klein recalls. “On one hand, it was a bit intimidating because it was new. On the other hand, there was no path to follow so I could set it up the way I wanted.” Initially the main responsibilities of magistrate judges were to issue warrants and set bail. The authority of magistrate judges was expanded around 1980 to include civil trials and case management. “This was the first time a position was created in the District of North Dakota and the court was given flexibility in how the magistrate judge position would be utilized,” Klein notes. “It was an open book.” Klein has also observed cycles in the caseload of the North Dakota federal courts. “Depending on both the economy and changes in the law, there was emphasis on different case types at different times,” she says. “Most recently across the state, there has been a huge surge of criminal and civil cases relating to western North Dakota’s oil and gas industry, especially in contracts, royalties and personal injury. We saw this in the oil boomlet of the 1980s, but it faded away and has come back with a much greater surge. We are extremely busy.” 28 THE GAVEL Early on in the job Klein saw the need for bringing mediation to the court system. “In our court there was no mediation and there was an aging caseload. I began meeting with lawyers and litigants to try to settle cases,” she recalls. “I had no training because none was available. I did my best and learned as I went.” Over time, more judges and lawyers became involved in mediation. When the Federal Judicial Center, the research and education agency of the federal judicial system, began offering mediation training, Klein became one of the first faculty members, and is now a lead mediation instructor. Another teaching experience Klein has enjoyed is the instruction of new judges. “Having the opportunity over the past 15 years to teach at the orientation programs for new magistrate judges has helped me keep my perspective fresh,” she says. “It has given me a chance to reflect on what we do and why we do it. And, it has helped me stay enthusiastic about my work.” Klein’s teaching opportunities have taken her to foreign countries for courses in mediation, judicial reform and judicial ethics. She has traveled to Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, Oman, Serbia, Montenegro, Poland, India and Malaysia. “I was also scheduled to do training in Iraq, however because of the conflicts of war, it was moved to Turkey. It was fascinating to hear the stories of the Iraqi women judges during that training,” she recalls. The classes usually lasted from three to four days, although some went as long as 10 days for the projects that included planning for future programs or crafting judicial ethics policies. Klein also presented judicial faculty development programs, teaching the judges how to teach their peers. “These courses were always a lot of work and not always at the most glamorous places. But they were always very interesting.” In addition to teaching, Klein has had the opportunity to have an impact on policy making on the national judicial level. She has been on the board of directors of the Federal Judicial Center and has served on two U.S. Judicial Conference policy committees, one for administration of the magistrate judges system and another for information technology implementation. “This has certainly broadened my experience and given me a much wider perspective,” she says. Klein, a Minot native who graduated from Minot State University, served in the Volunteers in Service to America program prior to earning her law degree from the University of North Dakota in 1977. She clerked for Judge Paul Benson for two years and was in the private practice for six years prior to joining the federal court system. “I had no idea that being a magistrate judge would be such a prominent part of my legal career,” she recalls. “I liked it immediately. It was innovative, challenging and rewarding. Looking back, the past 30 years have seemed like only five. I never had a day I didn’t want to go to work.” Klein’s retirement plans include remaining in Fargo and offering mediation in the private sector. “In some ways, it will be easier in the private sector because both parties will have requested it. In federal cases it is often required, and all parties are not always enthusiastic about it.” Klein regards as very memorable the people she has met over the past 30 years. “I have valued the opportunity to make many close friends across the country who are now lifelong friends. And, I want to express my appreciation for the wonderful people I have worked with in the Federal District Court of North Dakota. They are like family to me.”