City considering sending charter amendments to ballot for second judge

During their Aug. 2 meeting, City Commissioners will conduct a public hearing on amending the city charter to add a second municipal judge, which requires a vote on the November ballot.

Commissioners will consider a resolution to send that question to the ballot.

The city charter established a judicial branch with a Municipal Court in which all misdemeanor criminal, traffic and municipal code infractions within the city are prosecuted.

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It’s a court of record under Montana law and has always consisted of a single elected judge in Great Falls.

Several years ago, the commission adopted a budget with additional funding to allow sitting Municipal Court Judge Steve Bolstad to hire a part time judge to assist in the caseload.

The 2021 Legislature changes those rules and enacted a requirement that all municipal court judges be elected.

Montana law states that the city commission sets the number of judges required to operate the municipal court by ordinance but the city’s current charter states there will be one judge.

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If commissioners decide to send the question to the November ballot, voters will be asked if they want to amend the charter to remove the restriction from 1986 calling for a single municipal court judge.

That would allow the commission to add a second elected judge by ordinance, City Attorney Jeff Hindoien said.

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Commissioners already adopted a budget that include additional court staffing in anticipation of adding the second judge.

City charter amendments require a public vote under state law.

Expanding the Municipal Court was also a recommendation from the city’s crime task force.