A legislative bill creating two new state district judge positions, one in Ravalli County and another in Cascade County, may soon become law despite Senate changes that put it in peril.
House Bill 214, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Shockley of Victor, at first looked like a sure thing. As originally written, the bill would have made the positions elected in the November 2002 race, with the new judges taking office in January 2003.
That suited Ravalli County Commissioners just fine, since they are still figuring out where to put a second judge in the already crowded county courthouse, and how to come up with the funds for an entirely new district judge staff.
But the Senate amended the bill, making it an appointed position. There were two objections, according to Shockley. Had it been appointed, the new judges would have taken office next year, too soon fiscally for Ravalli County. And Democrats objected because they didn’t want Republican Gov. Judy Martz making the appointment, even though the position is non-partisan.
The issue was decided in a joint Senate and House conference committee, which was loaded with Ravalli County representatives, including Shockley, Sens. Dale Berry and Fred Thomas and freshman Rep. Rick Laible.
“We agreed to take off the Senate amendments, which [now] allow it to be an elected position,” says Shockley.
At least five Ravalli County attorneys have been mentioned as possible candidates for the position.
Hamilton lawyer Jim Haynes, who has worked both sides of the aisle as prosecutor and defender, confirmed that he will likely enter the campaign. “I am interested in running,” he says. “I’ve practiced the law in Ravalli County for 20 years and I have a wealth of experience working with the county attorney’s office and with the city [of Hamilton] as city attorney.” Haynes also served as Ravalli County Justice of the Peace from 1984 to 1987.
Randy Lint, also a former justice of the peace for Ravalli County, is considering a run, saying, “I’m pretty set on it.”
Both Lint and Haynes have some campaign experience. Haynes ran for the state Legislature in the late 1980s, challenging popular long-time incumbent legislator Bernie Swift. Swift was re-elected. Last fall Lint ran an unsuccessful campaign for the justice of the peace office to which he had initially been appointed.
Hamilton attorney Charles Recht has also been mentioned as a potential candidate, having challenged Jeff Langton for the district judge position several years ago, only to be forced by health problems to drop out of the race. Recht says he is waiting to see how HB 214 shakes out before deciding whether to run.