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Justice of the Peace Pedro Hernandez

Justice of the Peace Pedro Hernandez

The Yellowstone County commission intends to replace two retiring elected officials by appointing committees to review applicants and make recommendations for its consideration.

The process to replace Justice of the Peace Pedro Hernandez and his wife, Auditor Debby Hernandez, is expected to begin shortly after the commission formally accepts their resignation letters at its Tuesday board meeting.

The Hernandezes announced last week that they would be retiring, effective Nov. 30.

Pedro Hernandez has been a justice of the peace in Yellowstone County for 42 years, since 1975 when he was appointed to fill a vacancy. He has been re-elected ever since.

The justice of the peace position is nonpartisan.

Debby Hernandez, a Republican, was elected auditor in 2003. She began working for the county in 1980 in the county’s health department and then an economic development agency that became the Big Sky Economic Authority.

The terms for both offices expire on Dec. 31, 2018. Whoever is appointed to fill the jobs will have to run for office to retain the position. The jobs are four-year terms.

During the commissioners' Thursday discussion meeting, Chief Deputy County Attorney Dan Schwarz said the replacement process for both jobs is the same, even though the justice of the peace is nonpartisan and the auditor is partisan.

State law requires candidates for the jobs to be at least 18 years old, a nonfelon and a resident of the county, Schwarz said. Candidates for the justice of the peace job do not have to be lawyers, he said.

Schwarz also said there tends to be confusion that the appointment must be from the same party as the elected official vacating the job. That rule, he said, applies only to state legislative house or senate vacancies or a county commission vacancy.

Party affiliation has “no binding limitation” on the commission for either the justice of the peace or auditor job, Schwarz said.

The commission has discretion in how it chooses to fill the vacancies, he said.

In the past six years, the commission has used committee screenings and commissioner interviews of finalists when it appointed Jeff Martin to be clerk and recorder when Tony Nave retired, and David Carter to be justice of the peace when Larry Herman retired.

The commissioners agreed to use the committee review procedure and asked Schwarz to discuss the process and outline a timeline at its Tuesday board meeting.

The commission informally agreed to create two committees, advertise for the positions and have the committees review and make recommendations on finalists.

Formal interviews of finalists by the commission, however, would not occur until after Nov. 30. In the prior appointments, the commission has held public interviews with finalists.

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Federal Court, Yellowtone County Reporter

Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.