Gianforte creates panel to help fill District Court vacancy

Gov. Greg Gianforte has created an advisory council to assist in finding the next district court judge for the vacancy on the Eighth Judicial District.

The vacancy was created last month when the Montana Senate did not confirm Michelle Levine to the bench after former Gov. Steve Bullock appointed her to the seat last fall to fill the vacancy created by Greg Pinski’s resignation.

Pinski has been named to the committee to help select who will now be his replacement.

Gianforte accepting applications for district court judge vacancy

Lawmakers this year also changed the process for filling judicial vacancies and eliminated the Judicial Nomination Commission, which previously reviewed candidates and made recommendations to the governor. Now the appointment power lies solely with the governor.

“Comprised of accomplished attorneys and long-time community leaders, the Eighth Judicial District Advisory Council will assist me in identifying exceptional candidates to serve as the district court judge in the Eighth Judicial District,” Gianforte said in a release. “I have charged the advisory council with casting a broad net to identify well-qualified candidates who are committed to the fair, consistent, and objective application of the law and who will interpret laws, not make them from the bench.”

Senate committee votes to reject Levine’s confirmation as district court judge

Members of the advisory council are:

  • Dave 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 Area 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

The governor is accepting applications from and nominations of those meeting the statutory requirements for the position of district court judge.

Bullock-appointed judges face questions in Senate confirmation

The application form is available electronically here. Applications must be submitted electronically as well as in hard copy by June 1. Applications will be made available to the public.

From June 1-30, the public will be able to provide letters of support or other comments regarding the applicants here. Applicants must receive at least three letters of support to be considered for appointment by the governor.

Michele Levine appointed as district court judge, replacing Greg Pinski

The governor’s appointee will be named in July and will be required to run for election in 2022.

Levine filed April 14 with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices to run for the judge seat in 2022.

The makeup of Gianforte’s advisory council is similar to what the law had previously required for the state’s Judicial Nomination Commission seven members, which included: four lay members who are neither judges nor attorneys, active or retired, who reside in different geographical areas of the state, and each of whom is representative of a different industry, business, or profession, whether actively engaged or retired, who are appointed by the governor; two attorneys actively engaged in the practice of law, who are appointed by the supreme court; and one district judge elected by the district judges under an elective procedure initiated and conducted by the supreme court and certified to election by the chief justice of the supreme court.

The members of the commission before it was eliminated during this legislative session were: District Judge John C. Brown of Bozeman; Janice Bishop of Missoula; Karl Englund of Missoula; Elizabeth Halverson of Billings; Hal Harper of Helena; Lane Larson of Billings; and Nancy Zadick of Great Falls.