Big Sky Roundup
Gianforte announces judicial search committee; ousted judge says she will apply to old job
Judge Michele Reinhart Levine of Cascade County speaks at her confirmation hearing before the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee on March 24, 2021. (Montana Public Access Network)
Gov. Greg Gianforte has chosen 10 people with backgrounds ranging from law enforcement to public school administration to help identify and evaluate applicants for the judicial vacancy in Cascade County.
The Eighth Judicial Vacancy was created after the Senate’s historic decision not to confirm acting Judge Michele Reinhart Levine on April 23. Depriving the district of a judge albeit only for a few months had a momentous impact on the district, which was already struggling to keep up with rising caseloads. Levine told the Daily Montanan that she plans on running for the seat in 2022 and intends to apply for the judicial vacancy despite being rejected by the Senate.
Gianforte’s advisory council will serve as a replacement for the judicial nominating commission, which was abolished during the 67th legislative session. Judges have until June 1 to apply and Gianforte will name his appointee in July.
This will be the first time a judge is appointed under the new process created by Senate Bill 140. Previously, applicants had to go through the Judicial Nominating Commission, which comprised of four lay people appointed by the governor, a district court judge, and two lawyers appointed by the state supreme court. When there was a judicial vacancy, the commission interviewed nominees and delivered three to five judges to the governor to choose from. Under the new process, Judges apply directly to the governor and are interviewed by a council of 10 people, all chosen by the governor and the governor has the final say in who is appointed.
However, it is unclear how long this new process will be in place as the constitutionality of SB140 was challenged within 24-hours of it being signed leading to an intense and unprecedented battle between Montana’s legislative and judicial branches.
The ten members are:
David Bowen, retired chief of police of Great Falls Police Department
Brett Doney, president of the Great Falls Development Authority
Shane Etzwiler, president of the Great Falls Chamber of Commerce
Brion Lindseth, attorney at KLB Business Law
Ron Nelson, attorney at Church Harris Johnson & Williams P.C.
Greg Pinski, former judge for the Eighth Judicial District
Kristy Pontet-Stroop, executive director of the Alliance for Youth
Jennifer Quick, deputy county attorney for Cascade County
Christie Slaughter, probation and parole officer for the State of Montana
Ruth Uecker, assistant superintendent, K-12 Great Falls Public School District
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