East Central North Dakota judge announces retirement

Tom Olson has served Cass, Steele and Traill counties for 8 years and will step down April 30.

Thomas Olson and Gov. Jack Dalrymple
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, right, appointed Fargo attorney Thomas Olson to the East Central Judicial District Court bench. The judicial district serves Cass, Steele and Traill counties.
Special to The Forum
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FARGO — A judge who serves in Cass, Steele and Traill counties will step down at the end of April.

East Central District Judge Tom Olson informed North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Feb. 1 that he will retire, according to the state Supreme Court.

Olson worked for the Clay County, Minnesota, Attorney’s Office from 1983 to 1985 before pursuing a private practice in Fargo. He focused on civil litigation and mediation.

He was appointed in 2014 to the East Central Judicial District by then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple. In an interview with Forum News Service, Olson said he was honored and humbled by the appointment. Dalrymple said Olson was dedicated and well-respected by his peers.

Olson was elected in 2016 and 2020 with 99% of the vote both times.


The 69-year-old cited several health issues, including contracting COVID-19 last year, pneumonia, concussions and two strokes, as his reason for retiring. His doctor recommended retirement for the sake of his health, he told The Forum.

Still, he said he enjoyed working with people from all walks of life. Judges often see people at their most desperate times, but they also see others during the good parts, such as adoptions and marriages, he said.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he said.

He said he tried to be fair and compassionate, aiming to leave those he saw in court feeling like they were heard.

Olson oversaw the trial of William Hoehn, who was accused of conspiring to kidnap and kill Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind in 2017. The woman’s child was cut from her womb before she died. The child, Haisley Jo, survived.

A jury acquitted Hoehn on the conspiracy to commit murder charge, but he pleaded guilty to the kidnapping conspiracy felony, as well as a misdemeanor of giving false information. Olson sentenced Hoehn to life in prison after the defendant was designated a “dangerous special offender.”

That sentence was overturned by the North Dakota Supreme Court, forcing Olson to resentence Hoehn. Olson appeared reluctant to cut the sentence , which ultimately was 20 years behind bars.

"The saddest thing for the court is that you will be out of prison before the child that lost its mother will graduate high school," Olson said. "How wrong is that?"


He told The Forum he felt like he did his job as a job in that case.

Olson is the second judge to announce his retirement ahead of the 2022 election. Steven Marquart said he will not seek reelection next year.

The Supreme Court must determine whether the judgeship Olson filled is needed or should be moved somewhere else before Burgum appoints Olson’s replacement. His successor would serve two years before they could run for election.

The Supreme Court is taking comment on the matter until Feb. 17, according to the order. Those wishing to submit input should send it to Supreme Court Clerk Petra Mandigo Hulm at supclerkofcourt@ndcourts.go, or by mail to 600 E. Boulevard Ave., Bismarck, N.D. 58505-0530.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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