Big Sky Roundup

Gianforte announces judicial search committee; ousted judge says she will apply to old job

By: - May 14, 2021 1:02 pm

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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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .