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Published January 12 2013

Norberg divorce trial gets under way Monday

FARGO – Former Fargo surgeon Jon Norberg was cleared in November of criminal charges accusing him of drugging and sexually assaulting his wife, but when the couple’s divorce trial begins Monday, he again will have to defend himself against her allegations.

Evidence of domestic violence is one of 13 factors the civil court must consider when determining the best interests and welfare of the children – and it carries more weight than the other 12 factors.

“If there is credible evidence of domestic violence, that factor trumps everything else,” Wahpeton attorney Janel Fredericksen testified during the criminal trial in November.

Judge Steven Marquart will officiate the weeklong divorce trial, deciding who gets custody of the Norbergs’ three minor children and how to divide the couple’s assets worth at least hundreds of thousands of dollars, including their Rose Creek home and funds stemming from Jon Norberg’s practice before he lost his medical license.

Renewed allegations

After a Cass County jury found him not guilty of gross sexual imposition and reckless endangerment – a verdict returned in less than four hours after a highly publicized two-week trial – Jon Norberg said his acquittal would have “a big impact” on the couple’s custody battle. The defense argued in the criminal trial that Alonna Norberg had concocted the allegations in an attempt to strengthen her case for maintaining custody of their children.

Both parents are seeking legal and physical custody and primary residential responsibility of the kids.

Marquart recently agreed to admit some evidence from the criminal trial to “promote efficiency and judicial economy” in the divorce trial, including witness testimony and exhibits by transcript.

“As far as whether or not the entire trial transcript would be admitted, I can’t answer that question,” said Jon Norberg’s attorney, Susan Ellison.

In civil court, the burden of proof – a preponderance of the evidence – is lighter than in criminal court, where guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Under state law, if the court finds “credible evidence” that domestic violence occurred, and if it resulted in serious bodily injury, involved the use of a dangerous weapon or is part of a pattern of domestic violence, it’s presumed that the violent parent may not be awarded custody.

That presumption may be overcome “only by clear and convincing evidence that the best interests of the child require that parent have residential responsibility,” the law states.

Alonna Norberg filed for divorce on July 8, 2011, citing irreconcilable differences “being due to the fault and conduct of” her husband – an assertion he denies.

In addition to custody, she is seeking child support in an amount greater than what’s called for in state guidelines, as well as alimony. Jon Norberg was ordered to pay $4,250 per month in child support starting Aug. 1, 2011, based on his net income of about $30,000 per month, court documents state.

Alonna Norberg’s attorney, Patti Jensen, responded to an interview request with this emailed statement: “Alonna has no comment and would much appreciate it if the press would honor her request for privacy as the upcoming trial involves her children. She believes any comment to the press, while it may benefit her and other victims of abuse, would have a negative impact on her children and asks that the press respect her wishes.”

Ellison also wasn’t willing to discuss issues related to the children.

Assets on the line

Another factor the judge must consider in deciding custody is the ability of each parent to assure the child receives adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical care and a safe environment. And in the Norbergs’ case, Marquart will decide between two doctors who currently aren’t working.

The state Board of Medical Examiners indefinitely suspended Jon Norberg’s medical license a year ago, while Alonna Norberg, a pediatrician, went on medical disability in 2008 and hasn’t practiced since then.

Jon Norberg indicated after the criminal trial that he may seek reinstatement of his license.

There are sizeable assets to be divided in the divorce, including the couple’s home valued at $537,300 on Rose Creek Parkway South in Fargo and a house they own in Punta Gorda, Fla., court documents show.

After filing for divorce, Alonna Norberg was granted temporary and exclusive use and possession of the Rose Creek home, while Jon Norberg was made responsible for the mortgage payments, car payments and health insurance premiums.

The couple had owned two vacant lots in Fargo’s Osgood subdivision at 4355 and 4375 66th St. S., but Jon Norberg sold them for $300,000. An accounting of how he spent the proceeds shows he paid $31,920 in expert fees for his criminal defense, as well as $75,000 on legal and retainer fees to law firms and about $103,000 to pay off the mortgage on the lots.

According to court documents, Jon Norberg signed a contract with Sanford Health on or about July 13, 2011 – five days after his wife filed for divorce – to sell his business assets for $276,000. The orthopedic surgeon also signed an employment contract with Sanford, receiving what’s referred to in court documents as a $374,000 “retention loan,” or signing bonus.

Jon Norberg used the $276,000 – for what is unclear in court records – and deposited the $374,000 into a trust account with Montgomery, Goff & Bullis, the Fargo law firm representing him at the time. The court granted him access to $100,000 of the $374,000 but denied a motion by his wife for $100,000 to be used for her attorney fees.

Last March, Marquart also signed an order requiring Jon Norberg to show during the trial why he shouldn’t be held in contempt of court for withdrawing $100,000 from a retirement account to which he claimed he was granted access.

Alonna Norberg’s medical condition and history of prescription drug use, which were highly scrutinized during the criminal trial, will likely arise again in the divorce trial, as the court granted Jon Norberg’s motion for an independent medical examination of his wife. The exam was conducted by Fargo psychiatrist Dr. Harjinder Virdee, who testified in the criminal case that Alonna Norberg’s credibility was “very low.”

A malpractice suit brought by Alonna Norberg against her husband two days after his acquittal is pending in Cass County District Court. Also named as defendants in the case are the Plastic Surgery Institute, where Jon Norberg worked, and the PSI Surgical Center of which he was a member; Kay and Ahmed Abdullah, owners of the surgery institute; and Melody Shawchuck, a nurse at the institute.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528