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Senate confirms Bullock-appointed Gallatin County judge

Montana State News Bureau Chief Holly Michels summarizes the day's news from the Montana Legislative session for April 27, 2021.

The Montana Senate on Monday approved of a Gallatin County district court judge whose confirmation earlier this session appeared uncertain as lawmakers revised the judicial appointment process.

Gallatin County District Court Judge Peter Ohman was confirmed 50-0 by the Senate following a report from the Senate Judiciary Committee to support his appointment.

"I am honored by the unanimous, bipartisan support of the Montana Senate, and look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of Gallatin County as District Court Judge," Ohman said in a statement Monday.

Ohman, like Cascade County District Court Judge Michele Reinhart Levine, was appointed last year by then-Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat. The Senate last week rejected Levine's appointment, saying she would be unable to decouple her work on the bench from her past as a Democratic lawmaker.

Ohman had the benefit of not having a partisan background. Instead he's worked as a state attorney in several capacities and as a high-ranking official in the Office of the State Public Defender through a serious overhaul in 2017. 

Gallatin County has also suffered a crushing caseload in recent years, prompting lawmakers this session to fund a new district court judge there. 

Senate Judiciary Chair Keith Regier, a Republican from Kalispell, told the Senate on Monday he was especially impressed with Ohman's leap into the workings of water court and willingness to go out to the creeks and rivers to get to know the issues before him. 

Sen. Diane Sands, a Missoula Democrat, also lauded Ohman for his work to find mental health resources for those who fall into the criminal justice system again and again due to unchecked mental illness. 

Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Chris Abbott, the third Bullock-appointed judge of 2020, is still awaiting a committee vote on his own confirmation proceedings. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Abbott a month ago supporting his confirmation. 

Republicans this session did away with the Judicial Nomination Commission that forwarded the three judges to Bullock for appointment. Senate Bill 140 abolished the commission and gave the governor power to directly appoint judges after a vacancy on the bench. That law was challenged in March after its signing and has developed into a major dispute between the Republicans in the Legislature and the Supreme Court

The legislature is expected to wrap up by the end of the week. 

Montana State News Bureau

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