HELENA - The Senate on Wednesday voted to add six new district judges in five judicial districts around the state, including two in Yellowstone County.
Senate Bill 158, by Sen. Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell, passed 44-6 and faces one more Senate vote before moving to the House.
"Basically, it's to relieve the overloaded court system," he said.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer opposed the bill because of its expense.
The Montana Supreme Court requested the bill after an independent national study that examined Montana district judges' workload and found where additional judges were needed. The new judgeships would be created in some of the fast-growing urban areas.
SB158 was amended to provide that all six judgeships would be filled by election in November 2010. They would run for six-year terms, and the winners would take office in January 2011.
The original version called for the governor to appoint two of the judges in 2009 and they would take office immediately and be subject to a vote in 2010. The other four judgeships would be filled.
Delaying the filling of two of the judgeships by a year until the 2010 election will save $500,000 in salaries for judges and court staff, said Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor. The additional costs for the judges and staff will total $1.8 million a year once fully implemented, the state budget office said.
Shockley, an attorney, said he believes that the additional district judges are necessary.
As a House member, Shockley said, he helped kill a bill sought by the Supreme Court to create an intermediate court, which would be between the district courts and the Supreme Court, because it wasn't necessary at the time and still isn't.
Senate President Bob Story, R-Park City, questioned the need for the bill, saying the Legislature ought to redraw court districts to put the judges where they are needed. He suggested some judges in rural areas don't have big caseloads.
Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman, also a lawyer, said the bill is needed, quoting the saying, "Justice delayed is justice denied."
Here's where the new district judges would go:
• Judicial District 1 (Lewis and Clark and Broadwater counties): One new district judge to join the current three judges in Helena.
• Judicial District 8 (Cascade County): One new district judge to join the four judges in Great Falls.
• Judicial District 11 (Flathead County): One new district judge to join the other three judges in Kalispell.
• Judicial District 13 (Yellowstone County): Two new district judges to join the five in Billings.
• Judicial District 18 (Gallatin County): One new district judge to join the three in Bozeman.