Rod Souza, Yellowstone County’s chief deputy attorney, has filed for the district judge seat held for the last 30 years by G. Todd Baugh, who announced he is retiring at the end of the year. Souza also has applied to be considered for appointment to a district judge position formerly held by U.S. District Judge Susan Watters.
In the race for Baugh’s district judge seat, Souza becomes the second candidate and will be running against a fellow prosecutor.
Corbit Harrington, a senior deputy county attorney who prosecutes child abuse and neglect cases, was the first candidate to file for the seat.
Baugh announced in January he would not seek re-election. Baugh’s comments last August in a rape case he handled drew widespread criticism from around the country. Baugh said that the 14-year-old rape victim was “older than her chronological age” and that she was “probably as much in control of the situation as the defendant.”
Souza, who will make a formal announcement at 5:15 p.m. Thursday at the Billings Depot, has worked in the county office since 1999. He is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Law.
Souza said he is running for Baugh's seat and applied for Watters' post because, "I really want the job. This is important to me."
Being a district judge, Souza said, is "something I've aspired to. The position really embodies the notion of service and that's what I've done up to this point in my career."
The prosecutor said he has the experience and integrity for the job. "And I definitely have the work ethic for the position," he said.
As chief deputy, Souza handles administrative duties in addition to carrying a caseload involving major felonies, including homicides.
If appointed, Souza said he would quit the race for Baugh's seat. "I am going to run a campaign," he added.
Souza is among nine Billings attorneys who applied to the state’s Judicial Nomination Commission for appointment to Watters’ seat. The position is a six-year term and pays a salary of $117,600.
The commission has a month to forward the names of three to five nominees to Gov. Steve Bullock for appointment. The governor then has until April 27 to make the appointment.
The new judge must run for election in 2016. The winner of that election will serve the remainder of Watters' term, which expires in January 2019.