Anne Peterson has served Helena well during her seven months as municipal court judge, and she deserves the opportunity to show what she can do with a full four-year term.
The Helena City Commission appointed Peterson to fulfill the remainder of a term vacated by Judge Bob Wood, who retired in March after more than a decade on the bench. Now it’s up to the voters to decide whether to keep her in the position she currently holds.
Peterson earned her political science degree from Carroll College and her law degree from the University of Montana. She worked as a public defender before becoming a prosecutor for the Lewis and Clark County Attorney’s Office.
While her educational and professional history are impressive on their own, her thoroughness and compassion as a judge and vision for the Helena Municipal Court are what really make her stand out.
Peterson is a strong proponent of the treatment court model, which emphasizes recovery over punishment for offenders with substance abuse problems. She said she is seeking federal or state funding to establish a DUI treatment court that could allow her to waive the mandatory jail time for second and third offenders who agree to participate, which would help keep them out of her court in the future.
“I think there is a lack of treatment at the lower level and I’d like to see that change,” Peterson told the Independent Record editorial board.
Peterson also understands that every case is different and must be treated as such. That’s a tall order when hearing 40-60 cases per day, but she takes the time to understand the big picture before making a judgment or even accepting a defendant’s plea.
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Make no mistake, Peterson is tough when she has to be. Although she rarely sends offenders to jail for misdemeanor crimes, those who flaunt orders to appear in court will likely have to spend some time behind bars.
But she holds people accountable with compassion and has even allowed some offenders to schedule their jail time around their work schedule so they can keep their job, which also helps keep them out of trouble in the future.
In contrast, we have some concerns about the professional record of Peterson’s opponent.
While Jack Morris meets all of the legal requirements necessary to be elected as municipal judge, he has been disciplined for professional misconduct twice and is currently practicing law under probation ordered by the Montana Supreme Court. As a condition of his probation, which ends in October 2020, he is not allowed to engage in the solo practice of law without the written consent of an approved mentor and his medical providers.
While we hope Morris can one day put these issues behind him, we believe he needs to complete his probation before he can start down the long road to redemption.
Fortunately for Helena, the most qualified candidate is already sitting in the municipal judge’s chair. And we encourage Helena voters to keep her there by casting their ballots for Anne Peterson this fall.
This is the opinion of the Independent Record editorial board: Publisher Anita Fasbender, Editor Jesse Chaney and community members Alana Listoe and Chuck Butler.