VandeWalle Courtroom remodeled, rededicated, reopened at UND
Gerald VandeWalle ’55, ’58 Law, served 44 years on North Dakota’s Supreme Court, 27 of them as chief justice
The iconic courtroom found on the third floor of the UND School of Law is now open for business – meaning moot court, actual hearings and other law student-centered activities – following a ribbon cutting ceremony held on Oct. 23.
The ceremony was held two years and a day after the courtroom was first dedicated to Gerald W. VandeWalle, the now-retired chief justice of North Dakota Supreme Court. VandeWalle, a UND Law alum, participated in the ceremony, alongside several state dignitaries, including Gov. Doug Burgum, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley, sitting members of the state Supreme Court and U.S. District Court judges, as well as UND administrators including UND Law Dean Brian Pappas and President Andy Armacost.
The ceremony heralded the opening of the Gerald W. VandeWalle Courtroom for official use, following a period of extensive renovations. After being introduced by Pappas, who emceed the ceremony, Armacost welcomed the attendees, and thanked VandeWalle for his service to the state. He said the courtroom does justice to the VandeWalle name and will well serve law students for years to come.
“Chief Justice, it’s great to see you, and we’re honored today to bestow upon you this this room,” Armacost said. “We can think about the pride that we all have in your service across the state and the pride that you bring to UND and to the School of Law through your actions.”
The courtroom underwent extensive renovations, including new flooring throughout, new paint, updated technology including monitors along both sides of the room, and new furniture and window treatments, as well as an ADA compliant jury box. The renovations totaled more than $465,000 with funding coming from the Law School’s Annual Excellence Fund, along with donations from numerous donors including from the Law Class of 2019. Additional upgrades to the room, including new windows, will be forthcoming.
But not all the furniture in the room is new. Supreme Court Justice Lisa Fair McEvers, who spoke at the event, noted that one of the desks from which law students will deliver their arguments belonged for years to VandeWalle while he served as Chief Justice.
“Law students, when you’re coming up here to make your arguments, know that you may be sitting behind the desk that was the Chief Justice’s for probably close to 40 years,” she said.
And to much laugher, she added: “I’m going to say I’ve never seen it so clean!”
Burgum recalled a conversation with VandeWalle, when the jurist chose to step down from the role as chief justice in 2019 — something, Burgum said, VandeWalle did not have to do, but did because of his character as a gentleman. Burgum spoke fondly about “Jerry’s” contributions to jurisprudence in North Dakota and wished him well in “the next chapter of his story.”
“On behalf of all North Dakotans, on behalf of (first lady) Kathryn and myself, we thank you for your service, your dedication, your incredible gift of intelligence and your wit, and everything you’ve done to move our state forward,” Burgum said. “Thank you, and we wish you the very best.”
Wrigley praised VandeWalle for his ability to set a positive example for lawyers in the state and to be able to reach across generations in doing so. Throughout his career, Wrigley has had the opportunity to engage with the former Chief Justice, sometime from the opposite sides of the table.
“The generations of lawyers, North Dakotans, from all four corners of our state, people I’ve met around this country who know you know your work, on behalf of us all: I love you Chief,” Wrigley said. “I love you and thank you. Congratulations on this tremendous honor.”
And VandeWalle has certainly left an indelible mark on legal proceedings within the state. The Noonan, N.D. native retired from the Supreme Court at the end of 2023, which marked the end of more than 60 years in service to the state. He served 44 years on the Supreme Court, of which 27 years were spent as Chief Justice.
For his contributions, VandeWalle has been recognized with the state’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, as well as numerous professional accolades from UND, the American Bar Association, the University of Mary, and others.
The speakers, VandeWalle included, then stood in front of the courtroom, a place where generations of UND Law students have stood before and future generations will again, to cut the ceremonial ribbon officially opening the courtroom for legal and educational use.
Said VandeWalle, “I am grateful to all of you. I thank everyone that has contributed to my success.”