North Dakota Law

Updates from the University of North Dakota School of Law.

Retired Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle honored in UND courtroom dedication

The ceremony took place at the newly renovated courtroom, located in UND’s law school, on Monday afternoon, Oct. 23, and was attended by Gov. Doug Burgum and state Attorney General Drew Wrigley.

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(L-R) North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Lisa McEvers, UND Law School dean Brian Pappas, Judge Dan Traynor, retired Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle, Gov. Doug Burgum, Attorney General Drew Wrigley and UND President Andrew Armacost cut a ribbon at the reopening of the Gerald W. VandeWalle Courtroom in the UND Law School building Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
October 23, 2023 at 5:53 PM

GRAND FORKS — North Dakota’s longest-serving State Supreme Court justice was honored in a courtroom dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony at UND’s law school on Monday afternoon, Oct. 23.

It had been two years and one day since the courtroom was officially dedicated to retired Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle, and many traveled to celebrate the grand reopening, including Gov. Doug Burgum and North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley.

“It’s a space certainly fit for the VandeWalle name, both in its form and its function,” UND President Andrew Armacost said. “It’s going to serve all of our students so well, for many years.”

Burgum said it was incredible to be in attendance celebrating “the reopening of this beautiful courtroom in honor of its legendary namesake.”

“You’ve been a pillar of wisdom and fairness for over four decades,” the governor said to VandeWalle.

Wrigley also expressed his admiration for VandeWalle.

“I love you, Chief,” he said. “I love you, thank you, congratulations on this tremendous honor.”

The courtroom’s renovation cost $446,000 and was made possible through the Annual Excellence Fund, which includes donations from UND alumni.

“This project is a result of a lot of hard work,” said Brian Pappas, dean of the law school. “If you stood here a month ago, you would not believe that we would be doing this today.”

The project is not entirely finished. New windows and light fixtures will be installed within the next few months, and the roof will be replaced next summer, Pappas said.

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Retired Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle of the North Dakota Supreme Court reacts at a dedication of the UND Law School’s Gerald W. VandeWalle Courtroom named in his honor Monday, October 23, 2023. Gov. Doug Burgum is at right.  Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

One addition already made to the courtroom was VandeWalle’s Supreme Court desk, which now serves as one of the conference tables.

“We’ve had the pleasure of working with you, of observing you, and admiring you for many, many years,” Armacost said.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel M. Traynor clerked for VandeWalle more than two decades ago, and still remembers his advice: do not have your life planned out.

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Friends of retired Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle react during Monday’s dedication of the courtroom named in VandeWalle’s honor at the UND Law School Oct. 23, 2023.  Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

“He recalled the frustration of many who fail at a life plan and consider themselves less than whole,” Traynor said. “VandeWalle’s motto was, ‘Take on opportunities as they come, and live for the day.’”

True to his word, VandeWalle applied for a position in the Supreme Court on a dare. That dare turned into a lifetime of public service. Throughout his career, he was offered other — more lucrative — opportunities, but he turned them down.

VandeWalle said though he’s very touched by the kind words addressed to him throughout the ceremony, he wouldn’t be where he is today without UND, the law school and the state of North Dakota.

“I am grateful to all of you,” VandeWalle said when he addressed those in attendance. “I thank everyone that has contributed to my success.”

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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum wheels his way across the Gerald W. VandeWalle Courtroom for Monday’s dedication Oct. 23, 2023.  Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald