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Erik Burgess, Published September 14 2013

Clay County has replacement for three specialty courts

MOORHEAD – Three specialty courts here won’t scramble to find a replacement when 7th Judicial District Judge Lisa Borgen steps down Nov. 1 and returns to private practice in Moorhead.

Borgen was instrumental in getting a specialty court started here that aims to help veterans with post-traumatic stress or a chemical dependency who have also been charged with a crime.

She also heads the drug court in Clay County, which is shared with Becker County, and does a majority of the cases in Clay County’s domestic violence court.

With Borgen’s recent announcement that she will be leaving her judgeship, the county is looking for another judge to fill in.

Clay County District Court Judge Michelle Lawson is willing to take over all three divisionary courts, Borgen said.

Lawson said it’s not set in stone that she will take over the veterans and drug courts because the chief judge has to appoint someone, but she said she is willing and would like to do it.

“I’m certainly asking for that assignment,” Lawson said. “I think it’s an awesome concept, and I think it’s super exciting that we’re bringing it here to Clay County”

Drug Court Coordinator Don Kautzmann said “it’s kind of a blow” to lose Borgen. Kautzmann also plans to be the coordinator for the veterans court, which could be in operation by next year.

“She (Borgen) was the driving force behind the drug court, and she’s been the driving force behind veterans court,” he said. “But I’m optimistic because I know Judge Lawson is very supportive of those programs, too.”

Kautzmann said the veterans court team will receive training later this month from veterans court coordinators in Tulsa, Okla.

The Clay and Becker team consists of a judge, veterans services officials, county prosecutors, a defense attorney, a social services representative and a North Dakota State University official who will study the effectiveness of the court, Kautzmann said.

The team will travel to Tulsa later this year for a final training session. Federal money is paying for the training and trip to Tulsa, he said.

The veterans court will share time with Becker County, just as the drug court does.

Borgen said she is excited for the new specialty court – which she likes to call a “problem solving” court.

“I know the team is going to continue to do it and make it work, and Judge Lawson is the perfect person to take it over,” Borgen said.

Borgen also handles about three-fourths of the county’s domestic violence court business, while Lawson does the remainder.

Lawson will likely take over the entirety of domestic violence court until a new judge is appointed, Borgen said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518