Long-serving Cass County state's attorney announces plans to retire

Birch Burdick will have been county's top prosecutor for 24 years at the time he plans to step down.

Birch Burdick speaks during 2018 news conference
Birch Burdick speaks during a news conference held at the Fargo Police Department in 2018 regarding a fatal stabbing. Dave Olson/The Forum.
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FARGO — Birch Burdick, who has been the Cass County state's attorney for more than two decades, has announced he will retire on Dec. 31, 2022, when his latest term expires.

Burdick informed Cass County commissioners of his decision in a letter dated Nov. 17. In the letter, he states he will be 67 years old in late 2022 when he plans to step down from the position he was first elected to in 1998.

"This announcement, at this time, allows others an opportunity to consider their options for running for the Cass County State's Attorney position in the 2022 election cycle," Burdick said in his letter, adding he is looking forward to joining his wife, Jo, "in writing the next chapter of our lives."

Burdick also wrote that he is grateful to the voters who elected him six times. He noted he worked with three sheriffs and 10 police chiefs over the years.

"I am grateful to those leaders and their staffs for undertaking difficult and dangerous work to help the victims of crime, to hold offenders accountable and to help provide for the safety of our community," Burdick wrote, adding he was "indebted to the county commissioners for supporting me when I asked for more resources."


In his letter, Burdick listed a number of high-profile crimes his office prosecuted, stating:

"I take satisfaction in knowing that during my years here we helped find an important measure of justice in the senseless death of young Jeanna North , the stolen-identity-turned- murder of Timothy Wicks , the murder-for-hire of dentist Philip Gatusso, and the unfathomable violence against a pregnant Savanna Greywind , amongst many other notable and frequently nationally-recognized cases."

Burdick, whose late father, Quentin, served more than 30 years in the U.S. Senate and whose grandfather, Usher, served in the U.S. House of Representatives , said in his letter to county commissioners that except for a few dedicated and very long-term employees, he hired many of the people who work in the state's attorney's office.

"As I look to the future, I recognize this office's chief strength rests largely in their hands and heart, expressed through a daily commitment to our overall mission: doing the right thing each and every day," Burdick said, noting some of his hires have gone on to other jobs in the area of law, including five who became district court judges and one who became a state supreme court justice.

"I'm lucky that way, I suppose. I'd like to take credit for hiring good people, just because I'm not sure what else I should best take credit for," Burdick said in a recent phone interview.

In the same interview, Burdick praised the support he received from his wife during his years as a prosecutor.

"Not only do I live with this job, but so does she," Burdick said, adding: "When I'm going out at three in the morning to a homicide scene, she doesn't go with me, but she knows what's going on."

Burdick, who helped establish the first juvenile drug court in North Dakota as well as the addition of two adult drug courts, stressed that the majority of cases handled by his office do not grab headlines.


"The more routine cases are cases where people have made a poor decision while their decision-making capabilities were altered by alcohol or otherwise, or they were animated about something and made a poor decision," he said.

"For those people," he said, "it's appropriate to find a way to hold them accountable, but also to recognize that they are going to move on in their lives and be walking the streets with all of us, and we hope we can get them to a somewhat better place than we found them."

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