Lewis and Clark County now has a second justice of the peace.
"Starting at the new court has been a unique challenge," newly elected Judge Mark Piskolich said. "The other side of the bench is a new feeling, but I'm honored by the opportunity and excited to really get going."
Piskolich previously spent 26 years working as a federal probation officer.
Piskolich said new justice court cases will be divided between him and fellow Judge Michael Swingley, who was doing the job solo before the county's second justice of the peace position was added this week. Any civil cases or other filings can be made in either court at the petitioner's choice, but Piskolich said petitioners are encouraged to file in his court to ease Swingley's workload.
Justice court staff are splitting their time between the two judges. Piskolich said two new clerk positions will be hired, and one is currently occupied by a temporary placement. In total, the court will go from five to six clerks.
"By the numbers, these clerks are some of the busiest in the state," Piskolich said. "They're excellent and really the backbone of the court."
According to the court's clerks, Piskolich and Swingley will rotate jail appearances each week. Additionally, the staff can rotate based on need since both Piskolich and Swingley are part of the same justice court.
Piskolich said that as he settles into the position, he would like to explore more ways to make the courts more efficient through technology. Since the county's Full Court system could not assign him cases until his start date of Jan. 4, Piskolich said Swingley got "hammered" with tickets from the New Year's Day weekend.
"My last several working years were in an almost entirely paperless environment," Piskolich said. "That's challenging in the law and courts, but finding little things here and there can add up."
Piskolich said he also wants to explore what kinds of partnerships the court can develop with entities like the Fort Harrison VA or the Helena Indian Alliance. According to Piskolich, when treatment resources can be targeted to specific characteristics of clientele, it tends to be more relevant to the client and thus more effective.
Piskolich's primary goals are to work alongside Judge Swingley to make sure county residents have ready access to timely and fair resolutions of their legal needs.
"I'd also like to work with the sheriff's office and Court Services Division to ensure we're doing all we can to keep the community safe, make crime victims whole and reserve our jail beds for those who pose the greatest risks to our community," he said.
Piskolich was elected as the county's second Justice of the Peace in November. The Lewis and Clark County Commission voted in 2018 to create a second judge position to help process the high volume of cases that go through the justice court system.
Piskolich was sworn in by district court Judge Mike Menahan on Dec. 28 and passed his certification test on Dec. 30. Piskolich said that prior to that, he spent significant time observing both Judge Swingley and Helena Municipal Court Judge Anne Peterson.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the following information. Mark Piskolich worked for 20 years a federal probation officer, not as a probation officer for Lewis and Clark County.