Judge Kermit Bye, '62, to assume Senior Status on Appeals Court

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School of Law


Judge Kermit Bye has served notice that he will assume senior status on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals early next year.

Bye, who was appointed to the federal appeals court in 2000 by President Clinton, said Tuesday that, at age 77, he wants to reduce his caseload but continue to hear cases.

"I decided I should take the opportunity while I was still in good health to throttle back and enjoy life," Bye said in an interview in his chambers, decorated with family photographs and his camera collection.

"I'm going to stay on as long as I can and be helpful," Bye said, adding he hopes he still has his "fastball."

Although he keeps his chambers in Fargo, Bye travels frequently to St. Paul and to St. Louis, where the 8th Circuit is based, to hear cases. On occasion, to help out in other circuits, he travels elsewhere.

"It's very collegial," Bye said of the relationship with his fellow judges, a mix of eight Republican appointees and three Democrat appointees among the 11 active judges.

"We have to make some hard decisions at times," he added. "We're all human beings. We come with a certain set of values and priorities that range significantly across the spectrum."

The sophistication of legal issues has increased during his almost 15 years on the bench, Bye said. That requires judges to read voraciously and attend judicial seminars to stay current in the evolving body of law and to handle their caseloads.

"My wife says 'You're never home until your briefcase is here,' " Bye said. "It's something you live with 24/7, 365 days a year, there's no question about that."

Before becoming a judge, Bye was a partner in the Fargo-based Vogel Law Firm, where three of his fellow partners previously were named to the 8th Circuit.

One of his former law partners is Judge Myron Bright, appointed by President Johnson in 1968, who remains on senior status and has his chambers across the hall from Bye.

"Judge Kermit E. Bye has been a great colleague and an excellent judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit for the past 14-plus years," Bright said in a statement.

"I am pleased that he will continue serving the court after he takes senior status next April 22, 2015," he added.

The son of an accountant who grew up in Hatton, Bye went to law school at the University of North Dakota after four years of selling advertising for KNOX, a radio station in Grand Forks.

Bye's wife, Carol Beth, paid the bills working as a teacher while he attended law school. After graduating in 1962, he worked as an assistant North Dakota attorney general and deputy securities commissioner.

Before joining the Vogel firm, where he would devote most of his career as a lawyer, Bye worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Fargo.

Tim Purdon, U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said Bye's continuing role in hearing cases as a senior judge will help the court's calendar.

"It really is a public service," Purdon said. "Judge Bye agreeing to serve as senior status provides additional service to the Eighth Circuit."

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handles appeals from federal trial courts in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Arkansas. It has 11 active judges and four judges on senior status, including Bright.

Purdon, noting that 17 men but no women have served at the district court and circuit court level in the federal judiciary in North Dakota's 125-year history, said it's time for a change.

"It's time," he said. "We have really good, competent, outstanding female lawyers. It's time to balance the history here."

Now that Bye has given notice that he will switch from active to senior status early next year, lawyers who are interested will make their interest known to North Dakota's U.S. senators and the White House.