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Yellowstone County District Court Judge Ingrid Gustafson has been named to the Montana Supreme Court.

Gov. Steve Bullock made the announcement late Thursday afternoon after notifying Gustafson. Gustafson fills the seat vacated by Mike Wheat, who announced his retirement in August. Wheat plans to leave Dec. 31.

Reached Thursday evening, after spending an afternoon on the bench, Gustafson said she was honored.

“I’m seeing this as a new challenge, and I’ll work hard at it, and I hope I’ll do a good job for the people of Montana,” Gustafson said.

The announcement creates a new opening for the 13th Judicial District, bringing to three the number of judgeships needing to be filled in Yellowstone County in the next year. (The Legislature approved funding for two new district court judges who will run for election in 2018.)

Just three weeks ago, the district swore in its newest judge, Don Harris, who was appointed to succeed Russell Fagg. Fagg retired in October to run for the U.S. Senate.

Gustafson was notified during a brief phone call from the governor around 3 p.m., and then she went directly into drug court. Her phone was full of missed calls and congratulatory text messages. Drug court members congratulated her at the end of the hearing.

Gustafson earned her bachelor's degree in science from Montana State University and her law degree from the University of Montana.

She has been a district court judge since January 2004, when she was appointed by then-Gov. Judy Martz. She was elected later that year, and re-elected in 2006 and 2012. Gustafson started Yellowstone County’s first felony drug court and was a member of the Commission on Sentencing, a multi-agency effort over the past two years to reform the state’s criminal justice system.

Gustafson will have to run for election in 2018 to retain the seat. Whoever wins that race will serve until January 2023.

The position pays $144,066 a year.


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