FARGO – Karen Klein has the distinction of being the first female federal magistrate judge in North Dakota. She also was the first in the state to have that judicial post full time.
After 30 years, Klein is retiring from the bench and plans to work in private practice as a civil mediator, a role she has enjoyed as a judge.
“I’m not ready to quit working,” Klein said Thursday. “I’m just ready for a change after 30 years,” although she will miss “the challenges and the people I’ve worked with.”
There will be a retirement celebration will be held here in Klein’s honor Friday afternoon.
Klein was named chief U.S. magistrate judge in 2005. Her primary duties involve civil case management, mediation, civil trials and preliminary criminal proceedings. There are two other federal magistrate judges in North Dakota.
One of her most memorable civil cases involved mediation of the former Great Plains Coal Gasification Plant, whose owners walked away after natural gas prices plunged, leaving the plant in the hands of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Through mediation, a settlement was reached in which the original owners agreed to keep buying gas from the plant, located near Beulah, but at market prices, which were much lower than contract prices.
Basin Electric Power Cooperative stepped in as the plant’s new owner. Between the purchase and gas contracts, the deal was billions of dollars.
“That was maybe the biggest case I ever worked on,” Klein said.
Her very next mediation case was settled for $1,000. “Honestly, it was every bit as important to the individual” as the much larger Great Plains mediation case was to the parties of that dispute, she said.
One of Klein’s most memorable criminal proceedings was an appeal by Leonard Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement who was convicted of murdering two FBI agents on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation in 1983.
“The parties made it very dramatic,” Klein said, referring to a hearing she presided over in the 1990s. The appeal ultimately was unsuccessful, and Peltier is serving a life sentence.
A native of Minot, Klein graduated from Minot State University. She served in Volunteers in Service for America before graduating in 1977 from the University of North Dakota School of Law. Klein clerked for the late U.S. District Judge Paul Benson in Fargo.
She has served on the board of the Federal Judicial Center and as chairwoman of the Federal Judicial Center Advisory Committee on Magistrate Judge Education. She is past president of the Federal Magistrate Judges Association.
If you go:
What: Retirement celebration for Karen Klein, chief U.S. magistrate judge for North Dakota
When: Reception starts at 4:30 p.m., with brief program following at 5:15 p.m. Friday
Where: Plains Art Museum, 704 First Ave. N., Fargo