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North Dakota native is the only active U.S. federal judge to have served in all 3 branches of government

"Did You Know That" columnist Curt Eriksmoen continues the story of Richard Goldberg.

Judge Richard Goldberg, seen here in 2019, reminisces about interesting cases from his legal career from his home in Detroit Lakes, Minn. He is the oldest sitting judge on the U.S. Court of International Trade, one of three national courts in the country.
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FARGO — The only current federal judge to have actively served in all three branches of government (at the state and/or national level) was born and raised in Fargo.

Richard Goldberg was a North Dakota state senator from 1967 to 1974, served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture as Undersecretary for International Affairs and Commodity Programs from 1987 to 1989, and has been a federal judge for the U.S. Court of International Trade since 1991.

Early in his multifaceted career, Goldberg had been an officer in the U.S. Air Force, a college instructor, an attorney in both the public and private sectors, and the president and CEO of a seed and feed enterprise in West Fargo.

Because of his extensive business and legal experience in dealing with agricultural issues at both the national and international levels, Goldberg became President Ronald Reagan’s logical choice to oversee “international trade matters involving agriculture” within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One of the biggest issues between the U.S. and our foreign trading partners was protective tariffs. Protective tariffs are taxes that are added onto foreign goods or commodities “intended to increase the cost of an import so that it is less competitive against roughly equivalent domestic goods.”


A major reason why foreign goods may cost less than American goods is the cheap labor wages paid to foreign workers to harvest and/or produce the goods. To retaliate, other countries placed tariffs on goods imported from the U.S., and this can hurt our economy.

One of the biggest trading partners of the U.S. is Canada, and the tariffs imposed by both countries in the 1980s were hurting both the U.S. and Canada. Reagan wanted to implement an agreement with Canada that would improve the economies of both countries and, on Aug. 1, 1983, appointed Goldberg to the position of Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs for Commodity Programs. In 1987, the President promoted Goldberg to Undersecretary for the same program, so that he could take on a bigger role in the negotiations with Canada.

On Oct. 3, 1987, Reagan announced that the U.S. and Canada had reached an agreement on all essential elements. He said that a trade agreement with Canada would be signed on Jan. 2, 1988. Reagan claimed that this agreement “will remove all Canadian tariffs, secure improved access to Canada’s market for our manufacturing, agriculture, high technology, and financial sectors, and improve our security through additional access to Canadian energy supplies.” Most of the agricultural provisions had been worked on by Goldberg.

When George H. W. Bush was elected president in 1988, he retained Goldberg until most of his projects had been completed. Largely because of Goldberg’s efforts, free trade agreements had been established with Canada, Mexico, most of the European countries, the USSR, Taiwan, India, Japan and South Korea.

In April 1989, Goldberg resigned his position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and entered into private practice with the Washington, D.C., firm Anderson, Hibey, Nauheim, and Blair. This was a law firm that specialized in “U.S. taxation of cross-border income with particular emphasis on foreign, multinational investing in the United States, investment funds, and foreign investment in U.S. real estate.” Goldberg brought to the firm his knowledge and experience of international trade law involving “agriculture and administrative law.”

On Nov. 30, 1988, Paul Rao, a judge for the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) died, leaving a vacancy on that court. CIT is a federal court that “adjudicates civil actions arising out of U.S. customs and international trade laws... and exercises broad jurisdiction over most trade-related matters, and is permitted to hear and decide cases anywhere in the country, as well as abroad.”

The CIT is one of three national courts, alongside the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. It was up to Bush to nominate a replacement for Rao to the court, and since he was well aware of Goldberg’s knowledge and experience in dealing with international trade law matters, he didn't hestiate to nominate Goldberg for the position on Jan. 8, 1991.

On March 21, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee convened to conduct a hearing on Goldberg’s nomination. Everything appeared to be clear sailing until a letter from the Board of Directors of the Customs and International Trade Bar Association was made known that opposed Goldberg’s appointment. In the letter, the board claimed that he had very limited trial experience and that he may have a bias against women. They asserted that Goldberg had made disparaging comments about a female judge.


After Sens. Kent Conrad and Quentin Burdick spoke in favorable terms about him, the Senate confirmed Goldberg’s nomination by unanimous consent. Goldberg received his commission four days later.

Goldberg became the third North Dakotan to be appointed to CIT. George M. Young, an attorney from Valley City, served from 1924 to 1932. He had been a state legislator from 1901 to 1908 and U.S. Congressman from 1913 to 1924, giving up his seat in Congress after his CIT appointment.

Morgan Ford, a Fargo attorney, served as a CIT justice from 1980 to 1992. Ford, a nephew of William Langer, had a notable legal practice in Fargo before serving as city attorney of Casselton for a number of years.

Goldberg assumed senior status on the court on April 2, 2001, and was the arbiter on cases involving some of the largest international corporations (i.e. Hyundai, Tiffany & Co., eBay, etc.).

He rates some of his most memorable cases as the “North Dakota inmate who sued the state after being hogtied and left naked, and a Christmas Grinch who scammed children out of thousands of dollars with the promise of a fake holiday extravaganza in Miami.”

At 94, he is the oldest CIT judge in the country and has now scaled back on the cases he hears. Having served for over 30 years, I believe Richard Goldberg deserves a little time off.

Final update on the murder of Susan Berman: In April 2005, I wrote an article about two high-profile unsolved murders of Beverly Hills women whose fathers lived in North Dakota. One of the two was Susan Berman, daughter of Davie Berman, credited as being “The Mob Boss of Las Vegas." Susan had been murdered on Dec. 24, 2000, and, in March of 2015, I updated that article, and reported that earlier that month, the FBI had arrested Susan’s longtime friend, Robert Durst, for the crime. On Sept. 17, 2021, Durst was found guilty of Susan’s murder and, in October, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. On Jan. 10, 2022, Durst died.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@gmail.com.

Curt Eriksmoen has been writing a weekly history column for The Forum since 2004. He has taught at both the high school and college level and served as social studies coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction for 13 years. He is the author of nine books and is know for inventing barroom team trivia in 1974. Reach him at cjeriksmoen@gmail.com or calling 701-793-8508.
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