BOZEMAN, Mont.- Gallatin County officials are asking the Montana Legislature to pass Senate Bill 208, adding a fourth District Court Judge to the 18th Judicial District.
The bill is supported by the Gallatin County Commission, County Attorney, Sheriff, and a majority of the Gallatin County state legislators. If passed, the new judge would start in January of 2021.
County Commissioner Don Seifert said with a growth rate of approximately 3.5 percent each year, the county is in need of about 2.5 District Court Judges. However, the lack of space in the Law & Justice Center will only allow for 1.
Seifert said if the bill passes, it would help the three judges who are overwhelmed with their caseload, often causing delays.
“So those questions for those citizens can linger out there for a long time and it is our goal to answer those questions that the court needs to answer and move them on through the system,” said Seifert.
Deputy Mayor Chris Mehl said these delays can also push back city cases, which is why he said the city commission also supports this bill.
“We already know that the caseload is overwhelming,” said Mehl. “So we are putting a lot of stress on judges, on staff. Those people are making really important decisions and we need to give them the time and the resources so they can make those decisions. They could affect those people’s lives for decades if not longer.”
Throughout the state, Gallatin County leads other areas in terms of growth.
“This is a problem that will not go away,” said Seifert. “This is a short term solution for the problem but we are going to need more judges in the future.”
If the bill is passed, the cost of the added position along with their staff is funded through the state. However, the cost of housing the staff will have to be paid for through the county. Seifert said the judge would be housed in the Law & Justice Center, sharing space with the other three judges.