Two candidates are running for Yellowstone County District Court judge in Department 8. In the primary election on June 5, Juli Pierce took 60 percent of the vote while opponent Ashley Harada took 40 percent.

Separately, the top two vote-getters from the June primary, Colette Davies and Thomas Pardy, are squaring off in Department 7.

The two new judgeships were added in response to growing caseloads. Yellowstone County’s judicial district is the most understaffed in the state, according to a 2017 workload review by the Office of the Supreme Court Administrator. The successful candidates will take office in January.

Here are candidate Juli Pierce's responses to questions from The Billings Gazette:

Candidate and hometown

Juli Pierce. Billings. 41 years old.

Current job

Attorney at Moulton Bellingham PC, with a focus on family law and civil litigation. Handles some criminal defense cases. Guardian ad litem for abused and neglected children in Yellowstone County. New member of the Criminal Justice Act Panel, representing indigent criminal defendants in federal court. Justice Court pro tem judge since spring 2018. 

Career bio

Pierce graduated from University of Washington School of Law in 2004. Before that, she spent two years as a social worker in Billings. She has 14 years of legal experience. Legal career history is as follows:

  • Thirteen years as a prosecutor in the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office, including 2.5 years as the chief deputy county attorney. In the felony division, she specialized in violent crimes, domestic violence and child abuse. She also worked in the civil division.

Proudest career moment

In 2014, Pierce and then-prosecutor Rod Souza tried serial rapist Toby Eugene Griego and secured jury convictions on 27 counts, using more than 300 pieces of evidence. Griego had been following a woman at Hobby Lobby, which led to a police call, prompting officers to surveil Griego and eventually connect him to a series of home invasions and rapes that spanned roughly six months. Griego was “probably the most dangerous person I had ever prosecuted, and he was terrorizing this town,” Pierce said. She credited the victims who were willing to testify, saying they “taught me a lot” and “held it together” with grace. “They are the bravest women I have ever met." 

Q&A

What do you hope to change or improve in 13th Judicial District?

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If elected, Pierce would aim to preside over a treatment court. She applauded the proposal of a domestic violence treatment court pushed by Deputy City Attorney Teague Westrope, who ran for judge in Department 7 but did not advance after the June primary. “I’m not going to steal his thunder on that, but I think that’s a very important step in the next direction,” Pierce said in an interview in May. “That would be key with the people accused of domestic violence that have other problems as well with chemical dependency and anger and such.”

Position on the Montana County Attorneys Association's proposed change to the mandatory minimum for sexual offenses against children?

Pierce supports the proposal. She said bumping the 25-year minimum down to 10 years was a mistake because the higher penalty properly reflects how “horrifying” it is for children under 12 to be sexually victimized. She added that having the previous 25-year minimum in place still allowed flexibility. “Again I think that goes back to looking at a prosecutor’s discretion,” she said. “Because if a prosecutor does not feel that (the Jessica’s Law) penalty fits either the offender’s history or the crime presented, there are ways to amend the charge to make the penalties different. So you could amend it to a sexual assault felony, which is often done in a number of cases.” The penalty range for felony sexual assault is 4-100 years.

Position on MCAA’s proposed change to sentencing range for repeat DUI offenders?

Pierce supports the proposal. She said changes made to persistent felony offender laws in 2017 mean that now, repeat offenders can be on their 11th DUI "and he has the same penalty as he had the last five DUIs. So you're not accounting for the fact that he is also dangerous because he drinks to intoxication and gets behind the wheel, and could easily hurt of kill someone in the community. But yet, he will always have the same sentence: 12-24 months, plus the five years on top of that probation." Pierce said if the MCAA proposal was approved and passed into law, it would not affect many defendants. 

Local affiliations

Pierce attends St. Thomas The Apostle Catholic Church. She serves on the boards for Montana Association for Female Executives and for Eagle Mount, which provides recreational opportunities for people with disabilities.

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Justice Reporter

Justice reporter for the Billings Gazette.