A newly appointed panel will consider whether to redraw Montana’s judicial districts for the first time in more than 80 years. Legislative leaders, Montana’s chief justice and other legal institutions picked the seven members of the Judicial Redistricting Commission ahead of a July 31 deadline. Montana has 22 judicial districts. They have been split, but not redrawn, since 1929. A state Supreme Court review last year identified major discrepancies in judges’ workloads from one district to another. Overall, the review found Montana’s 46 district court judges and four standing masters are meeting the caseload and travel demands of more than 65 people.
Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick said he proposed appointing the commission to fix the uneven workloads and speed up court decisions in backlogged areas. “I’m a lawyer, and I’ve had cases in some of these really busy districts. And the cases were not decided in a timely manner, and that’s not good for clients,” the Great Falls Republican said. “They need to be able to move on with their lives.” Fitzpatrick sponsored the proposal on behalf of the Supreme Court.
The commission’s tasks were written broadly to allow for a variety of outcomes, Fitzpatrick said. Research by the panel and legislative staff over the next two years could result in legislative proposals to scrap the current district lines, reallocate judges and funding in the current districts or add more judges.