Remembering James Fitzsimmons, '77

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News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

School of Law


The legal system is feeling a void after the death of Jim Fitzsimmons, 62, executive director Legal Services of North Dakota, according to those who worked with him.

"It's hard to put in words what we lost," said Richard LeMay, the program's interim executive director. "It will take a while to figure out where we go from here .... He has left us too soon."

A 38-year advocate of civil cases for the elderly, tribal residents and those with disabilities and low incomes, he will be remembered as the voice for the underdog, according to LeMay.

Fitzsimmons' funeral will be held 1:30 p.m. today at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Mandan.

After graduating from the University of North Dakota and the UND School of Law, Fitzsimmons began working with the North Dakota Legal Services in Ft. Berthold in the late 1970s. In 2004, North Legal Services and Legal Assistance of North Dakota, consolidated into Legal Services of North Dakota and Fitzsimmons was named its executive director.

Fitzsimmons continued to represent Native Americans in their civil cases after the merger, fighting for their rights statewide and nationally, LeMay said.

"Jim has helped the Legal Services of North Dakota so it is a highly respected program. Through Jim's efforts, we have acquired a good staff. Jim made us what we are today," said LeMay of the program and its mission to provide high-quality legal advice, education and representation to low-income North Dakotan and disadvantaged elderly.

That wasn't an easy feat after funding cuts, according to LeMay.

"He found a way to help more people with less money. It was a difficult task for the administration," LeMay said. "It was important people got their due process .... He did his work behind the scene rather than beating the pulpit. He liked to be behind the spotlight."

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said Fitzsimmons served the people of the state as few people could.

"I was fortunate to get to know Jim and his incredible work assisting disadvantaged and elderly folks, as well as his dedication as a fierce advocate for Indian country. His selfless spirit will surely live on," Heitkamp said.

Scott Davis, executive director for the Indian Affairs Committee for North Dakota, praised Fitzsimmons' work in improving communications between the state and tribal court systems.

District Judge Donovan Foughty of Devils Lake worked with Fitzsimmons during recent tribal-state forums. He credited Fitzsimmons with having the state court system honor civil judgments from the tribal court system and honoring tribal criminal warrants.

"He was a kind and thoughtful person, one to fight for the underdog and had a passion for the law. He was always intensely interested in justice," Foughty said.

James Fitzsimmons Obituary

James Fitzsimmons, 62, died March 30, 2015 at his residence in Mandan.

Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Mandan, ND with Rev. Shane Campbell as celebrant. Burial will be at Mandan Union Cemetery.

Visitation will be held Monday, April 6, 2015 from 2:00-8:00 pm at Weigel Funeral Home, with a Rosary/Parish Vigil at 7:00 pm. Visitation will continue at the church one hour prior to the service on Tuesday.

Jim was born on May 29, 1952 to Patrick and Dolores (Friesz) Fitzsimmons in Mandan, ND. He was raised and educated in Mandan and Dickinson, graduating from Dickinson High School in 1970. Jim is a graduate of the University of North Dakota (1974) as well as the UND School of Law (1977).

Jim was employed by Legal Services of North Dakota for 38 years, the last several as Executive Director of the statewide program. He served on numerous legal organizations and professional associations throughout the state, including the North Dakota Bar Association. Jim was a strong advocate for Indian rights throughout his career. He was very active in the Fort Berthold community and was an instructor at Fort Berthold Community College where he received an award honoring his service to the college. He was a dedicated public servant and had a passion for helping those in need.

Jim was a devout Catholic and family was very important to him. He especially enjoyed spending time with his granddaughter, Cedar. Jim also enjoyed summers at his Lake Tschida cabin and watching baseball, traveling to Arizona with his family for Spring Training games yearly. He and his brother Bob continued the family’s interest in their

O–F Ranch near Huff.

Jim will be deeply missed by his daughters, Kylene of Bismarck and Carlyn of Mandan; granddaughter, Cedar (Carlyn); mother, Dolores and brother Bob, both of Billings, MT along with his beloved cat, Bubba.

Jim was preceded in death by his brother, Tim (1982) and father, Pat (1996).