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The first thing you notice when you talk with Bill Severin is how quickly he delivers information when he speaks. The cadence is a product of his now 40 years of working as a municipal judge in Bismarck.
By the end of 2021, Municipal Court had dealt with more than 550,000 citations and about 870,000 parking tickets since 1983, a few months after Severin first became an alternate judge at the age of 32 on October 19, 1982. He would be elected to the Municipal Judge position in 1984.
“When you are going through life, there are all sorts of forks in the road,” said Severin. “And I chose one of the forks. It had never occurred to me to be a judge. But it worked out.”
It has worked out through nine re-election bids and Severin finds himself midway through what will be his final term.
There have been many changes over Severin’s 40 years. “There have been many changes,” said Severin. “There are physical changes, equipment changes (from typewriter to computer; from carbon paper to copiers), law changes, rule changes and changes in the community. To demonstrate one change, Severin unrolled 20 feet of paper taped end to end across the courtroom floor. “We used to tape these docket pages to the doors,” Severin said.
When serving as judge, Severin says that role has not changed. That role is to be fair and impartial.
“My judicial robe reminds me that I’m there to serve the public,” said Severin. “My job is to be fair and impartial – I listen to the evidence and apply the law to hopefully get the correct result”.
While there may be fines or some form of punishment that occur as a result of the court proceedings, many people over the years have expressed their gratitude for his role.
“I do get thank you letters. One that sticks out is a person who wrote to me and said it is nice to see there are people like you left in the world,” said Severin. “When you are in private practice, there were always adversaries. A judge might have a positive effect on people’s lives.
“Most people self-correct and want to self-correct. Some of the people that do not self-correct, we may see repeatedly. What I’ve found is the `truth is short and lying is long`.”
When the 2024 elections roll around and Severin’s name is no longer on the ballot, one of the community’s long-standing institutions will come to a close, as the Clerk of Court Kathy Wangler will also be retiring. Wangler has served the municipal court for 42 years.
“We will need to find a couple of attorneys that want to run in 2024,” said Severin. “We’ll find somebody.”