Voters will see a lengthy list of judicial candidates on the primary ballot this spring, including incumbents and those seeking to fill two newly created departments.

The Billings Gazette has profiled the five candidates for Department 7, below. The top two vote-getters in that race will move on to the general election Nov. 6.

The Gazette will profile the two candidates for Department 8 in the fall. Those candidates, Ashley Harada and Juli Pierce, will automatically appear on the general election ballot.

The two new departments were added in response to growing case filings in the 13th Judicial District, which is the busiest in the state. A workload study found the district needed an additional seven judges, or 6.7 full-time equivalents, but the Legislature funded just two.

The new judges will take office in January.

Running unopposed are sitting District Court Judges Don Harris and Jessica Fehr, who were both recently appointed to the bench, and Michael Moses, who was appointed in 2014.

District court judges serve six-year terms and are paid $132,567. They must be admitted to practice in Montana for at least five years, and must have resided in the state for at least two years.

The Gazette asked the candidates for their positions on two proposed legislative reforms being pushed by the state's prosecutors.

First, The Gazette asked about the Montana County Attorneys Association's proposal to change the mandatory minimum for sexual offenses against children from 10 years back to 25. Lawmakers passed the reduction in 2017.

Second, The Gazette asked about the MCAA's proposal to expand sentencing guidelines for repeat DUI offenders. Legislative reforms enacted in 2017 removed a tool many prosecutors had used to seek lengthier sentences for repeat drunken drivers. Prosecutors argue that after several DUIs, treatment has not worked and prison time is needed. 

Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito has drafted a proposal that would allow judges to sentence offenders up to 10 years on a fifth DUI offense and to require that the offender actually has to serve at least three years. Six-time and subsequent offenses would garner sentences of up to 25 years under the proposal, with the offender required to serve at least five.

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