Judge's heart surgery may impact Brossart plea deal

North Dakota District Judge Joel Medd had open-heart surgery last week and is recuperating at home, which may impact one of the most-watched court cases in the region.

Judge Joel Medd
Judge Joel Medd will revisit Vietnam with fellow soldiers where they served 40 years ago. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

North Dakota District Judge Joel Medd had open-heart surgery last week and is recuperating at home, which may impact one of the most-watched court cases in the region.

He's the state's longest-serving district judge.

Medd, who turns 66 next month, went in for a checkup last week and ended up in surgery, having triple-bypass surgery performed on his heart March 21, said Merylee Castellanos, trial court administrator.

"He's doing very well," said Castellanos Thursday. "He's already emailing staff and is in very good spirits. He will be out for five to six weeks."

Case schedules have been shuffled as the other four judges and two judicial referees/magistrates pick up some of the load, Castellanos said. A surrogate judge, probably a retired district judge, likely will be tabbed to fill in, she said.


The most watched case Medd is judging is that of Lakota farmer Rodney Brossart, charged with felony terrorizing and theft after his arrest in June 2011 after he allegedly wouldn't return cattle that had wandered on his land from a neighbor's pasture.

Brossart and four of his adult children were charged with felonies in the aftermath of law enforcement investigating the cattle deal. His wife, Susan, was charged with a misdemeanor of lying to law enforcement. All six cases are being handled together.

Because Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke used surveillance from a federal drone in the arrest of three of Brossart's sons the day after Brossart himself was arrested, the case got international attention.

However, in August, Medd tossed out Brossart's contention that his arrest was unfair because of the drone use, ruling the drone had played a non-essential part in the arrests of the sons; that made it a moot issue.

In January, the prosecution and defense attorneys for the Brossarts struck a deal that effectively reduced all charges to misdemeanors with no jail time recommended.

News of that agreement resulted in protests from county officials, including Janke and county commissioners, as well as neighbors of the Brossarts, who say the proposed sentence is too light.

Medd has not signed the plea agreement, reached in January, raising speculation he might want both sides to revisit the deal.

However, Doug Manbeck, Nelson County state's attorney, resigned his post quickly earlier this year over the controversy about his handling of the case.


County officials hired Lonnie Olson, the prosecutor in Ramsey County, as the part-time interim replacement for Manbeck. But Olson took the job only after the county commission agreed he did not have to handle the Brossart case because he didn't have the time or resources, said Nelson County Auditor Jack Davidson.

Grand Forks County State's Attorney Peter Welte, tabbed by Manbeck to assist him in reaching a plea deal with Brossart's attorney stepped off the case earlier this year, citing the controversy in Nelson County.

Davidson said Thursday he's not sure exactly how the county will get a new prosecutor on board for the case. He's waiting to hear from the state association of counties for advice.

The county has advertised for a new state's attorney and the commission will review about three applicants next week.

Since Medd won't be on the bench for a month or more, it's possible a new state's attorney hired might be be on the job in time to handle the Brossart sentencing, Davidson said.

Medd longest serving district judge

Born in Langdon and raised in Anamoose, N.D., Medd has been a judge in the state for nearly 40 years.

He started as Benson County judge in 1975, the year he graduated from UND's law school.


He also has served as a county judge in Williston and as a municipal and tribal judge.

Gov. Art Link appointed him a state district judge in 1979. Since 2006, Medd has been the longest-serving current district judge, according to information from the state Supreme Court.

Before earning his bachelor's degree and law degree at UND, Medd served in Vietnam during the war as an Army intelligence officer and occasionally gives talks about that work.

Call Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1237; or send email to .

Rodney Brossart

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