Justice of the Peace candidate: David Phillips
Name: David Phillips
Occupation: Cascade County Justice of the Peace
Party affiliation: Nonpartisan
Experience relevant to position sought: Justice of the Peace since September 2021; MT Courts of Limited Jurisdiction Training September 2021 and April 2022; National Judicial College Courses May 2022, and September 2022; chief investigator, Office of the District Attorney 22nd Judicial District, Colo.; investigator, State of Montana Public Defenders Office, Great Falls; deputy Cascade County Sheriff’s Office, retired as undersheriff 2018; (25 years Law Enforcement experience including Administration, Budgeting, Supervision of exempt and non-exempt employees).
Campaign website/social media accounts, if applicable: N/A
Q: Why are you running for justice of the peace?
A: I wish to continue a 23 career of service to Cascade County that began in 1999 when I served as the first Deputy Sheriff assigned to the Cascade County Court House. I’m passionate about serving the community and holding the position of Cascade County Justice of the Peace for over a year has truly been an honor. During my tenure as a judge, I have been committed to attending trainings and gaining experience to best decide cases and run the court effectively. I hope to continue this work of serving the Cascade County.
Q: What do you believe is the role of a justice of the peace?
A: The role of justice of the peace is clearly outlined by Montana Law.
As the Justice of the Peace, you’re the judge in the people’s court for the County of Cascade. The court not only hears misdemeanor crimes and civil disputes, but also hears landlord-tenant cases, small claims, issues orders of protection, and conducts weddings. Judging misdemeanor crimes entails holding people accountable for their actions. A judge must also ensure public safety, while keeping our community values in mind when setting bonds or sentencing defendants.
Q: What do you believe are the top three challenges facing Cascade County?
A: Having become a Judge, I have taken on the responsibility to uphold the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct. By this code I must uphold and promote the independence, integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary. In order to uphold these values, I can no longer have a personal opinion. This being said I can only address issues brought before the court, and the law as it applies.
Q: If elected, what would be your initial priorities and how would you accomplish those goals?
A: Since becoming Judge, I have worked diligently to make the court more efficient. We have changed our filing system and added an automated phone system to direct incoming calls more efficiently. Additionally, we’ve made better use of the office space, while providing the staff more space to work within. The court currently occupies a very large footprint within the first floor and basement of the courthouse. A large majority of this space is occupied by paper files that have been scanned within the statewide court system, however, hard copies remain in the courthouse. We have recently processed and removed a large number of these files which was my first priority since coming aboard. This project remains a priority for me moving forward in order to further improve the efficiency of the office.
Q: How would you conduct public outreach on controversial matters before the county, or to promote a general understanding of the county’s public process as it pertains to Justice Court?
A: As a judge and remaining within the Code of Judicial Conduct I will not become involved with controversial matters unless they are before the court.
To promote a better understanding of Justice Court I have invited and have had students in high school government classes attend court to observe and ask questions. I will continue this practice moving forward, and want to remind everyone, Justice Court is open to the public to observe at all times.
Q: How would you approach working with county and city officials to address broader community needs and goals?
A: Within my role as Judge I currently work with county and city officials and other shareholders daily. I will continue to work as a team member as I have in the past to ensure all shareholders are invited and have a seat at the table.
Q: What do you believe a justice of the peace can, or should, do in relation to improving public safety?
A: Misdemeanor criminal matters entail holding people accountable for their actions. This is accomplished on a case-by-case basis depending upon the circumstances of the particular offense and the circumstances of each particular defendant. The judge has several options available including fines, home arrest, gps monitoring, and lastly jail. However, the judge must always ensure public safety, while keeping our community values in mind when setting bond or sentencing defendants.
Q: How would you work with the sheriff’s office to ensure public safety?
A: Although the sheriff’s office and the court both play a role in ensuring public safety, they operate independently of one another in order to allow the court to remain independent and impartial in deciding cases. This separation was developed to create the checks and balances needed to ensure the integrity of our judicial system and the people within it receive trials that are fair and just. Within my role, I will continue to work to maintain public safety and uphold the integrity, independence, and impartiality of the court by ensuring the court and sheriff’s office remain focused on their respective roles.
Q: How would you work with the sheriff’s office in terms of jail overcrowding as it relates to those awaiting trial?
A: Having been the undersheriff, and responsible for the jail I completely understand this issue firsthand. The Justice Court’s impact on jail population is affected by requiring bond of those individuals awaiting trial. The Judge must complete an evaluation of the circumstances of the particular offense and the circumstances of each particular defendant. The Judge must balance the risk to public safety and the defendant’s personal liberties. Keeping this in mind, incarceration may still be necessary, even if the jail is over capacity.
Q: How would you approach sentencing to ensure fairness to those convicted, victims and the community while also addressing public safety?
A: A judge should be compassionate, while holding both sides accountable for their actions. I believe a person must strive to do the right thing for the right reasons, no matter the outcome or how it will affect them personally. However, I believe that no one is perfect and sometimes people fail or fall short of doing what is right. People make mistakes every day, we all do. However, once a mistake is made, a person should be held accountable, work to overcome or repair the damage caused by their mistake, and then be forgiven and move forward striving not to make that mistake again in the future. These beliefs, I feel, make me a fair but compassionate Justice of the Peace. As an example, I believe Youth Court is much better equipped to address the needs of the Juveniles and provide the assistance needed to move forward. I’ve been working on moving juveniles (under the age of 18) who receive Minor in Possession charges to Youth Court.
Q: What do you believe a justice of the peace can do to ensure speedy trials and lessen the backlog of criminal cases in the local court system?
A: This for the most part is out of the hands of the Judge, based upon the way our judicial system is set up. In 2022 we have pulled over 30 jury panels with only two or three jury trials being held. The normal daily court docket has criminal cases in the morning, with civil cases being heard in the afternoon. I have moved several criminal hearings to the afternoon to accommodate cases and keep them moving ahead to address this very issue. As a Judge, the one thing I can do to guarantee our local court system moves ahead is make sure my orders are timely and accurate and the staff is properly trained to makes certain the court is working efficiently.
Q: What do you envision your working relationship with court/county staff would look like?
A: While a large part of the job of Justice of the Peace is hearing and deciding cases, the Justice of the Peace, as an elected Official, is also responsible for ensuring that the Justice Court, a department within the county government, operates efficiently. The Justice Court has seven full-time court clerks that are supervised by the judge. As the supervisor, the judge has to ensure all of their employees have a safe and efficient workplace. To me, the duty of a supervisor goes beyond these basic needs. It is my goal to ensure our employees receive the training they need, that they feel supported and valued, and believe their opinions and ideas are heard. Since my appointment to the position of Justice of the Peace, I have worked diligently to make sure the employees of Justice Court have received the requisite training and support they need to succeed in their roles. When the employees of the Justice Court are empowered to succeed, the court functions smoothly and more time can be spent on hearing cases.
Q: Any additional comments on your plans if elected (but please be concise)?
I had a good friend tell me:
“EVERY JUDGE IS 3 JUDGES, THE JUDGE THE LAW DEMANDS, THE JUDGE THE COMMUNITY WANTS, AND THE JUDGE THAT A PERSON ASPIRES TO BE.”
I keep this in mind each and every day. It is my hope that based on my professional and personal experiences, the judicial training I have received, my experience as judge thus far, and my over 20 years of dedicated service to Cascade County, I’m the Judge our community wants.