MEET NICK D. THORNTON
Hi! My name is Nick Thornton and I’m running for District Court Judge for the Southeast Judicial District. When I talk with people about this election, I hear many don’t often know much about the candidates before entering the voting booth. This is especially true when the election is nonpartisan like this judicial race. Unlike candidates for other political positions, judicial candidates are prohibited from making campaign promises or having platforms. So here, I cannot tell you what I will do as a judge or how I would rule in certain circumstances. I can, however, tell you about me, my qualifications, and why I think I’d make a good judge.
I was raised in Jamestown, North Dakota. I graduated from Jamestown High School, where I was very active in wrestling, football, and lifting weights. I am the oldest of four children. My mother works for an assisted living facility in Jamestown (Hi-Acres Manor, now Eventide). She has held various positions there for over 35 years, primarily working in human resources. My father was an over-the-road truck driver for most of his life. He passed away in 2013. My brothers and sister also live in Jamestown.
Right after high school, I was selected to play in the North Dakota Shrine Bowl and for Team North Dakota in the Down Under Bowl in Australia. While on that trip, I met the love of my life, my wife, Jennifer. Jennifer was also selected for an all-star team from North Dakota going to Australia—North Dakota’s all-star dance team. We started dating shortly after coming back to the United States. We were married in my senior year of college in my home church, Atonement Lutheran in Jamestown. After 24 years, we are still going strong. We currently live in Mapleton. I serve on the City Council there. My portfolios include personnel and buildings and grounds. Jennifer works from home as a proposals manager for a pharmaceutical research company.
We have two children, Stone and Steele, both of whom go to Central Cass. Stone is finishing up his sophomore year where he is active in wrestling and weightlifting. Steele is a third-grader active in baseball, soccer, football, and wrestling. We have two chugs (half Chihuahua, half Pug) and one crazy Doberman/Rottweiler puppy, who keep us very busy.
I really believe in servant leadership and giving back to my community in any way I can. I spend a great deal of time volunteering for Drug Court as the defense bar representative. Unlike the other members of the Drug Court team, there is no grant funding for the defense lawyer position. Because I think Drug Court is so valuable as a treatment resource, I volunteer about 160 billable hours of my time every year. To put that in perspective, the time I spend with Drug Court is the equivalent of a donation worth about $50,000.00. It matters that much to me.
I also spend a great deal of time coaching and teaching. I have been a volunteer wrestling coach for over a decade with local wrestling clubs, spending hundreds of hours a year doing something I really love—impacting the lives of others around me. I really enjoy working with kids. In my practices, I want them to learn about positivity, goal setting, hard work, self-motivation, and unlocking their full, amazing potential.
Now that you’ve read a little about my family and what makes me tick, I should share with you my experience and qualifications. This, unfortunately, feels like writing a resume.
EXPERIENCE AS A PRACTICING LAWYER:
Fremstad Law Firm
By far, I have the most diverse and broadest legal experience of the candidates seeking this position. I primarily practice criminal defense and quasi-criminal defense. I have represented well over 4,000 individual clients in state, municipal and federal cases across North Dakota and Minnesota. I have had several public defender contracts while at Fremstad in the East Central and Southeast Judicial Districts. Currently, I am one of two “major case contractors” in North Dakota, which means I am a go-to attorney for major and complex cases like murders, gross sexual imposition, and cases involving extremely difficult clients.
In addition to my criminal law practice, I represent clients in civil and family law matters. I have formed businesses, drafted wills, healthcare directives, and powers of attorney, I have litigated civil and administrative claims, and representing individuals in personal injury, divorce, child support, custody, and third-party rights (e.g. grandparents’ rights) cases.
Fargo Public Defender Office
I was a staff attorney for five years, representing thousands of indigent persons in all areas of criminal law in every type of case from driving under suspension to gross sexual imposition and murder. I also represented individuals in other types of cases the Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents provides counsel for, including post-conviction relief, juvenile delinquency, deprivation, termination of parental rights, child support enforcement actions, civil commitment proceedings, and related appeals.
Serkland Law Firm
At Serkland, I built a criminal law practice from scratch. I also assisted other attorneys with general civil litigation, alternative dispute resolution, disciplinary and malpractice defense, family law, administrative law, business law, creditors’ rights, bankruptcy, real estate, commercial transactions, and banking law. There, I also received substantial training in alternative dispute resolution, where I became a qualified neutral (mediator) in Minnesota and North Dakota.
North Dakota Supreme Court – Law Clerk for Justice Carol Ronning Kapsner
Immediately following graduation from law school and passing the Bar, I served as a law clerk for Justice Kapsner. I was tasked with performing legal research, drafting bench memorandums outlining the applicable law, drafting the case summaries outlining the facts and arguments of counsel, and after consultation with Justice Kapsner, preparing drafts of the Court’s opinions.
- United States Supreme Court
- United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
- United States District Court for the District of Minnesota
- United States District Court for the District of North Dakota
- State of North Dakota
- State of Minnesota
AWARDS AND HONORS:
- 2020 SBAND Community Service Award
- SuperLawyers Rated
- 2021 Expertise.com Rated Best Area Criminal Defense Practice Group
- Fremstad Law voted Best of the Valley from 2018-2021
- Order of the Coif (top 10 percent of law school class)
EDUCATION AND SPECIAL TRAINING:
National Criminal Defense College:
In 2018, I was invited to attend the National Criminal Defense College in Macon, Georgia. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best trial advocacy schools in the United States, with only about 5,000 graduates across the country. In North Dakota, there are fewer than 5 graduates.
University of North Dakota Graduate School:
I have been pursuing a Ph.D in criminal justice at the University of North Dakota for quite some time. I have completed all of the multidisciplinary coursework, taking classes on contemporary criminological thought, penology, human nature, psychology, sociology, and deviance. My research interests focus on identifying and reducing factors leading to recidivism, efficacy of theories of punishment, and drug and sex offender policies.
Western Trial Advocacy Institute:
Similar to the National Criminal Defense College, the Western Trial Advocacy Institute is a premier trial advocacy school held in Wyoming, taught by some of the best lawyers in America. I graduated from WTAI in 2009.
Minnesota and North Dakota Qualified Neutral training:
In 2008, I became “qualified neutral” in both North Dakota and Minnesota. A qualified neutral is essentially a person who has attended advanced mediation and alternative dispute resolution training focusing on identifying parties’ true interests and working toward reaching a negotiated agreement rather than going to court to resolve a dispute.
University of Mary:
While clerking for Justice Kapsner at the North Dakota Supreme Court, I attended night classes at the University of Mary to study advanced business concepts. I graduated in 2008 with an MBA with an emphasis on management.
University of North Dakota School of Law:
I graduated in 2006 from UND Law School with a juris doctorate with distinction. I graduated Order of the Coif, which means I finished law school in the top ten percent of my class. I was active in the Criminal Law Association, Student Trial Lawyers Association, moot court, and the captain of the Rough Justice Malpractice Bowl team.
Minnesota State University Moorhead:
In 2003, I graduated cum laude from MSUM with a degree in criminal justice. While attending law school, I was the vice president of the MSUM Criminal Justice Association and captain of the MSUM Mock Trial team. While captain, the Mock Trial team placed 10th in the National Mock Trial tournament.
Jamestown High School:
I graduated from Jamestown High School in 1998. While in school, I was very active in Football, Wrestling, and lifting weights. I was a three-year varsity starter in both sports.
As someone who is very grateful for the opportunities I have been given and in light of my strong faith in servant leadership, I freely give my time, talents, and efforts to give back to the community I think nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer.
2020 SBAND Community Service Award:
In 2020, I was honored by the State Bar Association for my community engagement and volunteer activities. This award is given annually to attorneys who demonstrate a commitment to community service and engaging with the public. I was nominated based on my work with Drug Court, coaching youth wrestling, and my work on two SBAND committees.
I am a firm believer in the effectiveness of treatment courts in reducing recidivism, providing needed access to treatment, and protecting our communities. I am very proud of the work I have done with Drug Court as the Defense Bar Representative.
Unlike the other Drug Court team members, who are funded through grants, the Defense Bar Representative is a true volunteer position. I volunteer about 160 hours of billable time to Drug Court every year, working with addicts to improve their legal situations, better their lives, and to remain crime-free.
Mapleton City Council:
I have a history of finding ways to get involved with my community in any way I can. I have been on City Council in my community since 2020. My primary responsibilities on Council include personnel and buildings and grounds issues.
Joint Committee on Attorney Standards:
I am currently the Chair of the Joint Committee on Attorney Standards. This is a joint North Dakota State Bar Association/North Dakota Supreme Court committee overseeing amendments to the rules of professional conduct that North Dakota judges and lawyers must follow. This Committee’s primary goal is to protect the public and govern the legal profession.
Consumer Protection Committee:
I was the Chair of the State Bar Association Consumer Protection Committee, which sought to protect citizens from the unauthorized practice of law until the Board of Governors disbanded the committee in 2021.
Cass County Bar Association:
I served as the treasurer and president of the Cass County Bar Association from 2016 through 2018, providing organizational leadership to a group of approximately 300 lawyers.
North Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers:
The NDACDL is an advocacy group of defense lawyers in North Dakota whose goals include raising the standards of the defense lawyer community, increase access to justice and protect the Constitution. I helped form this group in 2009 and have served twice as its President. Since its inception, no other North Dakota lawyer has been elected President twice.
MAC-V Veteran’s Legal Clinic:
On an annual basis, I have served as volunteer legal counsel for the MAC-V Veteran’s Legal Clinic at the Fargo Veteran’s Affairs Hospital. This legal clinic provides free, same-day legal services to veterans on a wide range of legal topics, from wills, trusts, and estates to housing to family law matters to clearing criminal warrants.
I have on more than one occasion volunteered to assist the F5 Project and its members on matters like sealing criminal records to improve job prospects for those with criminal history.
Throughout my career, I have always found ways to give back to students. I have given numerous presentations to local high schools, colleges, and groups on the criminal justice system. I have taught criminal law, criminal procedure, constitutional law, and business law at the undergraduate and graduate levels at MSUM and the University of Mary. I have been a volunteer wrestling coach, working with approximately 100 youth wrestlers a year aging from preschool to high school for the last decade.
HOBBIES AND INTERESTS:
In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my family. I love cooking. I try to impress my family with my culinary creations. My wife is often delighted but my children would rather eat hot dogs and mac-n-cheese. I enjoy spur-of-the-moment travel. I try to take at least one surprise road trip with my kids every summer. Last year, we drove to Washington, D.C. so they could experience living history and see how our government works. They enjoyed D.C. and our stops along the way but dreaded the full 24 hours in the back of the truck listening to dad jokes along the way.