Next month Montana’s busiest judicial district will be back to a full force of six full-time judges. Billings attorney Michael Moses is preparing to start his new job the week of May 19.
Gov. Steve Bullock made a wise choice in appointing Moses to serve till the 2016 election. The judicial vacancy drew a good field of nine applicants. The Montana Judicial Nomination Commission recommended five to the governor.
A Billings native, Moses, 61, is the most experienced attorney among the nominees and the only one with substantial experience in criminal law. Felony criminal case filings have increased 60 percent in the past six years in Yellowstone County. There were 1,601 felony cases filed in 2013.
Criminal law experience isn’t the only reason to recommend Moses. In his application, Moses wrote that his diverse practice has included: “Family law, adoptions, name changes, grandparent visitation, guardianships, conservatorships, elder law, end of life planning, abuse and neglect, juvenile law, worker’s compensation, medical negligence, Social Security disability, human rights and employment law, immigration law, environmental law, farm and ranch law to include mineral rights, coal rights, access, easements, partitions and water disputes; landlord tenant law, and all kinds of contract disputes.”
His qualifications are highlighted in dozens of letters of support the commission received from attorneys, clients and friends who agree that Moses will be an excellent judge.
Moses replaces Susan Watters, who was appointed U.S. District Court judge in December. During the vacancy, the remaining five judges have shouldered more work. District Judge Gregory Todd took over Yellowstone County Family Drug Treatment Court, a program that Watters founded more than a decade ago. That treatment court works with families in civil child abuse and neglect cases where parental drug abuse is a major factor.
We also recognize the welcome assistance provided by District Judges George Huss of Miles City and Randal Spaulding of Roundup, who have repeatedly traveled to Billings to preside in some of the cases Watters previously handled.
Frankly, the workload in this district would dictate that the county have four more judges – in addition to the six authorized by the state. Yellowstone County lawmakers should bear that need in mind when they gather next winter to set the biennial judiciary budget.
For now, our new district judge will have to jump right into this challenging job. Moses’ skills are well suited to meeting that challenge.
We wish him well as he takes the bench in a court that he has practiced in for 35 years.