Yellowstone County voters will see more judicial candidates than any others on their June 5 Primary Election ballots. Among nine judicial seats, only two are contested — both new judgeships that start on Jan. 1.
First, let’s run through the unopposed incumbents:
Supreme Court Justices Beth Baker and Ingrid Gustafson are running unopposed. Baker is seeking re-election to her second six-year term. Gustafson is seeking election after being appointed earlier this year to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Mike Wheat.
Both of Yellowstone County’s justices of the peace are on this year’s ballots. Justice of the Peace David Carter is unopposed in seeking re-election to a four-year term. Justice of the Peace Jeanne Walker is running unopposed for election after being appointed to the job upon the retirement of Pedro Hernandez.
Yellowstone County District Judge Jessica Fehr is on the ballot after being appointed to fill the vacancy created when Ingrid Gustafson was elevated to the Montana Supreme Court. Judge Don Harris is running for election, having been appointed to fill the vacancy that resulted when Russ Fagg resigned to run for U.S. Senate. District Judge Michael Moses is running for re-election to a six-year term.
Yellowstone County comprises the state’s busiest judicial district, which already has six District Court judges. State data show that each of them is carrying more than double the number of cases considered to be a full load for a felony trial court judge. An explosion of child abuse and neglect cases and criminal cases, especially drug-related crimes, has increased the court’s workload every year. According to the numbers, Yellowstone County needs six more District Court judges. The 2017 Legislature and Gov. Steve Bullock approved two.
Voters will be choosing those new judges starting with the June 5 primary. Two candidates filed for the new Department 8 judicial seat: Ashley Harada and Juli Pierce. Both candidates will be on the November General Election ballot.
Five candidates filed for the new Department 7 seat: Colette Davies, Teague Westrope, Yvette Lafrentz, Alexander Roth and Thomas Pardy. The two top vote-getters on June 5 will proceed to the General Election.
The Gazette invited all candidates for the two contested District Court seats to write about their qualifications in 500 words. Those seven guest opinions are published today in a special two-page section. Pierce and Harada’s columns are below. The columns from the five Department 7 candidates are presented on the next page.
The District Court judges elected this year will be in office through December 2024. They will have a challenging and powerful job in our community that behooves all of us voters to take a careful look at the attorneys campaigning to be judges.
Primary ballots will be mailed next week (on May 11 in Yellowstone County) to Montana voters who requested them. Otherwise, voters may go to their polling place on June 5. Montanans who aren’t yet registered to vote, may register and vote at their county elections office from now through Election Day.
The Gazette encourages Montanans to research their judicial choices and exercise their right to vote.